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National’s ‘show me the money’ moment: Benefit cuts to drive surplus, lower debt

Author
Thomas Coughlan,
Publish Date
Fri, 29 Sep 2023, 7:37AM

National’s ‘show me the money’ moment: Benefit cuts to drive surplus, lower debt

Author
Thomas Coughlan,
Publish Date
Fri, 29 Sep 2023, 7:37AM

Today is National leader Christopher Luxon’s “show me the money” moment. 

This afternoon, alongside finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis, he will unveil his party’s fiscal plan, which will tally up the costs of what the party has been promising on the campaign trail, and reveal whether deep cuts will be needed to pay for it. 

Willis revealed to the Herald she had set herself even tighter parameters than Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson had allowed in his party’s fiscal plan unveiled earlier this week. 

In August, Robertson cut the amount of net new day-to-day spending, an operating allowance in Treasury-speak, for the next three Budgets to a level significantly smaller than in the three Budgets last term: $3.5 billion in 2024, $3.25b in 2025, and $3b in 2026. 

STORY CONTINUES AFTER THE BLOG

STORY CONTINUES

Willis told the Herald that she would ratchet down the growth in new spending even tighter, making deficits and borrowing lower than Labour’s plan. 

“You will see in that fiscal plan that we will work within lower operating allowances than Labour are forecasting,” Willis said. 

Willis promised to take a “very conservative approach to ensuring that there are significant buffers in the Government spending to allow for additional funding for frontline services, including capacity pressures in the future”. 

Labour has left itself breathing space for cost pressure too. It left $662m unspent for Budget 2024 rising to $1.9b in 2025, and $3.1b in 2026 - although those figures are cumulative. National’s test will be whether it can match or exceed those figures. 

Labour leader Chris Hipkins meets apprentice builder Juan Brown in Northland. Centre is Northland MP Willow Jean Prime. Photo / David FisherLabour leader Chris Hipkins meets apprentice builder Juan Brown in Northland. Centre is Northland MP Willow Jean Prime. Photo / David Fisher 

One area that will drive significant savings will be reversing a change Labour made in 2019 that indexed benefit increases to inflation, rather than to wages, which National recommitted itself to this week. 

Wages typically rise faster than inflation, and New Zealand’s largest benefit, superannuation, is indexed to wages rather than inflation. The change would make someone on the basic Jobseeker rate $40 worse off a week at the end of the forecast period in 2027. 

That cost to beneficiaries will be the Government’s gain. National has not yet published costings for benefits policy, but an Act costing from May reckoned the change would save $166m from the 2024 budget, $391m from the 2025 budget and $552m from the 2026 budget. 

Act now says it will keep the existing formula for calculating benefit increases. 

Willis said the plan would reduce government spending as a share of the economy. 

A fiscal plan is effectively a blueprint for a Government’s budget. Willis said she’d put hers together while talking to people who had themselves drawn up a government budget. 

National finance woman Nicola Willis Photo / Jack Ellis
National finance woman Nicola Willis Photo / Jack Ellis 

Asked whether this included mentors John Key and Bill English, Willis said “I regularly talk with both John Key and Bill English and appreciate their insights, but I also appreciate that they’ve left me room to set my own path”. 

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has excoriated National for delaying the release of the plan, noting that Labour in opposition released its full plan before the release of Treasury’s Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (Prefu), which must be released no later than four weeks before polling day. 

Hipkins accused National of trying to bury the plan by dumping it on a Friday afternoon, a time governments of both colours have historically used to release something unpopular, owing to the belief that people are tuned into weekend plans, rather than the news. 

“The fact they want to dump it on a Friday afternoon after everyone’s gone to the pub shows that they’re embarrassed by it,” Hipkins said. 

“It’s difficult to attack the National Party because they’re simply not saying anything. They’re not releasing any of the information about how they’re going to pay for any of the commitments that they’re making,” Hipkins said. 

After their Wednesday night clash in Auckland for Newshub’s televised debate, Hipkins and Luxon headed in opposite directions yesterday to crack on with the campaign. 

Luxon headed south to Te Puke. In good humour, he leaned into a gaffe made last year when his social media team posted videos suggesting Luxon was in Te Puke when he was actually holidaying in Hawaii. 

Christopher Luxon proving that this time he was actually in Te Puke.  Photo  / Mike ScottChristopher Luxon proving that this time he was actually in Te Puke. Photo / Mike Scott 

This time , Luxon left nothing to chance, posing in front of Te Puke’s giant kiwifriut with a copy of the that day’s Te Puke Times, a sister paper of the Herald. 

After Luxon suffered a bruising attack from Hipkins on the best way to address gangs in Wednesday night’s debate, he doubled down yesterday on his approach. 

Police spokesman Mark Mitchell confirmed that a future National Government would introduce at least some of its promised legislation targeting gangs in its first 100 days in office. 

Hipkins meanwhile, capped off his best 24 hours of the campaign so far by heading north to Kawakawa delivering one of the strongest speeches of his time as prime minister. 

There, he defended Labour’s approach to Treaty issues, and described National’s attacks as “race-baiting”. 

Hipkins said he intended to take a different route and celebrate the benefits to the nation when Māori and the Crown worked together. 

“I’ve decided to do something novel and stick to the truth and my own values,” he said. 

He took issue with the use of the term “one system for all”, by his political opponents, including Luxon, arguing that “one system” was not working for many people, particularly Māori. 

“He wants one system for all even when that system is failing 20 per cent of our population,” Hipkins said. 

Act leader David Seymour meanwhile attempted to draw a line under a controversy brewing over one of his party’s candidates, Simon Angelo, who was caught liking homophobic, misogynistic posts on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

Seymour told Stuff’s Tova podcast that he wouldn’t sack Angelo, number 39 on the list and running in Whangaparāoa. 

“Frankly, while I find the sentiments in those tweets abominable, if we start saying that because someone liked something, didn’t even express it themselves - people can like things for a variety of reasons - I don’t believe that it’s a sacking offence, that’s just really, really disappointing and as I say, abominable content that was involved there,” he said. 

Thomas Coughlan is deputy political editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018. 

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