John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Centrist economic policy a lesson in clever tactics

Steven Joyce is also National's designated hit-man when it comes to Government attacks on the Greens and Labour. Photo / APN
Steven Joyce is also National's designated hit-man when it comes to Government attacks on the Greens and Labour. Photo / APN

Goodbye whacky Greens; hello orthodox Greens. So moderate and non-threatening is the Greens' policy on "economic innovation" it could almost have been written by Bill English.

The party's singling out of this largely uncontroversial policy as one of its top three election priorities might seem surprising at first sight.

It is a deliberate tactical move, however. The policy is designed to enhance the party's economic credibility in the eyes of mainstream voters and make National's inevitable attempts to demonise the Greens redundant and outdated.

In trying to pre-empt National's inevitable labelling of them as whacky and dangerous, the Greens were yesterday trying to turn the tables on National by portraying the ruling party as the one out of touch with economic reality.

Their target was National's alleged failure to increase government spending on research and development to far higher levels than present funding which sees New Zealand ranked 27th out of the 34 OECD countries.

Politicians have long waxed lyrical about how inventive New Zealanders can turn the steel in No8 fencing wire into export gold . But the boasting is never quite matched by the funding. New Zealand's spending on R&D is just 1.3 per cent of GDP - half the OECD average.

The Greens are promising an additional $1 billion over three years for R&D to kick-start what they call a "transformational shift" in the economy, as well as planning 1000 additional places in tertiary institutions for engineering, maths and science students.

It is noteworthy that Steven Joyce's Economic Development portfolio covers all of these areas. Joyce is also National's election campaign director and designated hit-man when it comes to Government attacks on the Greens and Labour. Joyce's response to Russel Norman's policy package was to damn it with faint praise, and point to figures showing spending on R&D next year being 70 per cent higher than the case when National came to power in 2008.

Unable to criticise the Greens for following in his footsteps, Joyce referred to the Greens' and Labour's intention to slap a capital gains tax on businesses and farms, saying that would really stifle innovation.

Coming on top of their planned carbon tax and compensating tax cuts, the innovation policy is further evidence the Greens are not going to allow themselves to be pigeon-holed on Labour's left and have Internet Mana pecking away at their support. So goodbye whacky Greens; hello slightly more centrist Greens.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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