Thomas Pippos: Mixed ownership offers way forward

Recent experience with oil exploration on the East Coast suggests that the Government is willing to move in this space. Photo / Greenpeace
Recent experience with oil exploration on the East Coast suggests that the Government is willing to move in this space. Photo / Greenpeace

It wasn't as bleak as it could have been.

Budget 2011 shows the 2012 year remains pretty anaemic looking, with the substantive growth not due to commence until 2013. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not necessarily a train.

We are not in surplus until 2015, but actually it's a lot better than that. We are projected to have the last big deficit in 2013 at $4.1 billion, moving to a $700 million deficit in 2014 and a $1.3 billion surplus by 2015. OK, so Australia's last big deficit is 2012 but we only stagger a year behind.

All this is reliant, of course, on believing the forecasts, as there have never been as many balls in the air as we have this year.

But continuing on the positive mood, part of the good news story is the proposed extension of the mixed ownership model. The initiative is nearing reality and it could transform not only the Government's balance sheet but also the way New Zealanders invest.

This was one of the most substantive aspects of the Budget and one of the likely dividing lines in the election.

The naysayers will be out in force decrying the sale of the "family silver" and that what is proposed is the "first step to the wholesale sale of New Zealand to foreigners", but let's get a grip: if the Government doesn't provide alternative investments that wean New Zealanders off property the rhetoric will never crystallise to anything.

What we need is more of these types of initiatives: clear choices that set a course. Prior to the Budget I set out four sets of choices that could stimulate the type of economic activity we need with a view to evaluating Budget 2011. Two of the four still provide ground for future reform.

One was the project that is already under way around developing a financial services hub. Mr Key's "I don't need the Magna Carta of documents - just get on and do something" approach was refreshing and a clear example of the leadership actually required to implement anything outside of the norm.

A related area of reform could also be around encouraging head office/regional head office activity to either come here or stay here, and reforms to attract and retain high net wealth individuals to base their operations here.

From a tax perspective at least, there are a plethora of micro-measures that could be undertaken which would collectively provide a step in the right direction in the pursuit of these goals.

Tapping into more of our mineral wealth also seems inevitable. Clearly this is a sensitive political issue, but it's hard to ignore the economic potential that could be reaped in this area. Just look across the Tasman for any evidence required.

Unfortunately, unlike our neighbour, the environmental implications in New Zealand are more severe but it's about striking a balance between the pros and cons.

Recent experience with oil exploration on the East Coast suggests that the Government is willing to move in this space.

Finally, and importantly, fostering savings and investment in New Zealand's productive assets is critical. The KiwiSaver changes move the burden of that saving to employees and employers as opposed to the Government.

The reality of potential partial privatisation of state assets actually looks to crystallise the rhetoric into a tangible development and brings closer a cultural step-change to what we invest in.

A related area warranting leadership and policy reform is new tax rules that facilitate, as opposed to discourage, direct investors investing alongside the New Zealand public in New Zealand assets - the NZ Inc story. Again, a multitude of micro tax issues currently discourage that from occurring.

So if you believe the forecasts, the future is nowhere near as scary as it could have been, but there's a lot of water to still flow under the bridge, and a lot more work that needs to be done to take us to where we want to go.

* Thomas Pippos is managing tax partner at Deloitte

- NZ Herald

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