Party time is over Prime Minister

John Key must trade off some of his popularity to take some of the hard decisions, say CEOs. Photo / APN
John Key must trade off some of his popularity to take some of the hard decisions, say CEOs. Photo / APN

Time to boldly and courageously spend your political capital and do the 'right stuff' for New Zealand. That sums up the views of the 80 business chiefs who spelt out what they want John Key to do differently if he is returned as PM at next week's election, writes Fran O'Sullivan

Put bluntly, the CEOs want Key to "harden up". Take tough decisions and back himself to win support for the consequences.

"We are not uniting New Zealanders to take the country forward," says Tower chief executive Rob Flannagan."We currently lack vision and strategic direction that all can buy into. We require leadership and courage to do this, are you going to do it?"

There is a real sense of urgency among business leaders that a returning Key Government may not be prepared for difficult times. They have listed 10 top trends that will drive company growth during the next 1-5 years. But it is notable that the NZ domestic recovery tops the list.

A professional firm boss said a "high level of trust has been established. It is time to grasp the nettle and be bold over a sensible level of modern mining of natural resources. We can then maintain our standard of living living rather than go on pretending we are a rich country through borrowing.

"The other areas of focus have been superb in terms of ongoing government spending cuts, proposed partial selldowns and the like. But I suspect it will not be enough."

Some say the Prime Minister may have to reconsider the top personal income tax rate which is arguably "not sustainable". "Key must trade off some of his popularity to take some of the hard decisions that New Zealand needs to make if we are to achieve economic growth and use the sparse financial resources we have available to us," says Michael Barnett of the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Hellaby Holdings' John Williamson wants Key to make some "tough" decisions and stop kicking the difficult issues into touch. "I believe that Key was given a clear electoral mandate in 2008 to reform things, yet several major structural issues remain untouched or sidelined. The economic impact of the GFC and earthquakes should have strengthened the Government's electoral mandate to tackle the tougher issues."

A company chairman hoped a more courageous and visionary John Key would emerge to set an agenda that addresses NZ's fundamental issues and "cease this pandering incrementalism".

APN's Martin Simons said Key must be bold and "do what is right for the future of New Zealand children rather than planning a long tenure in Government for the National Party".

Chief executives say this means Key must tackle long-term welfare and the age of entitlement to National Super irrespective of any embarrassment he feels at ruling the latter step out while he is Prime Minister. These issues top a list of second-term priorities. CEOs rated them at 4.43 and 4.23 out of five respectively, ahead of curbing Government expenditure and borrowing.

"Make some of the harder calls around issues such as the retirement age instead of staying with poll-driven mentality," urged an energy sector CEO.

Cooper and Company's Matthew Cockram said Key must use his well- earned political capital to deal with the challenges of government spending, debt management and a return to Budget surplus.

NZX CEO Mark Weldon points out National has developed a good springboard. Weldon wants a second-term National Government to focus on three things: increasing savings, partially privatising the SOEs and "an all-out focus on growth.

Two Degrees' Eric Hertz wants Key to attract the best and brightest Kiwis to come home and work here. Tackling youth joblessness and "atrocious child poverty" were also mentioned.

BNZ chief executive Andrew Thorburn stressed the next government should maintain momentum and continue to make positive changes to the tax system that would clearly incentivise investment towards the productive sector, build financial assets and enable better access to capital and equity that would help business grow.

"What's important is that we continue to have stable government focused on improving the fundamentals for economic growth by tackling structural issues."

Proving you can't please everyone

Since becoming Prime Minister John Key has danced at the Big Gay Out, minced down the catwalk in a Rugby World Cup volunteer's uniform and gone on David Letterman's Late Show.

It's part of the common touch image that Key has promoted.

But the PM's obvious taste for celebrity isn't proving to be a hit with all CEOs.

Some want him to be more serious - "less glib and flippant and popularist" and avoid "throwaway comments that create unnecessary distractions".

"Stop trying to act like a celebrity, and instead get on with making serious changes for the long-term benefit of the country, " said a finance sector chief executive.

Another said Key came into office saying he would make long-term changes but "he has became a baby-kisser showing up at all photo opportunities to win wider public support", and the Canterbury earthquake and two other national disasters have captured the bulk of his time.

- NZ Herald

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