Back in 2014, National's Jonathan Coleman was sprung adding his two bobs' worth to the graffiti on the unattended Labour Party election campaign bus in Northcote.
What this suburban guerilla armed with a Sharpie wrote was: "Five new taxes." At first blush it appeared to be a jibe at Labour and Green Party policies. Coleman was so proud he even tweeted about it.
Who could have guessed Coleman was instead being aspirational about National's own plans? What nobody appreciated was that Coleman was an unlikely Cassandra - a soothsayer giving a prediction nobody could believe.
After all, National spent much of the campaign banging on about the Five Taxes of Labour and the Greens as if they were the Seven Sins. These included a capital gains tax, higher income tax for high earners, regional water and fuel levies and a carbon tax. By contrast, National was promising to do nothing. "No new taxes," Steven Joyce gloated in early September when he was releasing a new campaign video which listed those five taxes of Labour and the Greens. The voiceover said all those taxes "would stall our economy and cost thousands of jobs".
What few realised was that National's "no new taxes" had an invisible asterisk attached, pointing to certain terms and conditions. Those conditions appeared to include "does not apply to new taxes on bogey men" and "does not apply if we need a tax to outflank Labour".
The bogey men in question here are property owners living overseas, which Prime Minister John Key has now signalled will be subject to a land tax.
Act leader David Seymour was the first to call foul, pointing out National had introduced two new taxes and was heading toward a third: the capital gains tax on properties sold within two years, the proposed land tax and a border levy for air passengers.
Labour has found five: the aforementioned three plus the extension of a levy on telco providers to pay for rural broadband and the "Netflix" tax, charging GST on online products and services from overseas.
National will argue about whether these are new taxes until it is blue in the face. Too bad - National made a rod for its own back when it opted to define new taxes as including an increase to income tax and a proposed water levy on high water users. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Whether the general public actually care about this bickering over taxes is questionable. There are good taxes and bad taxes. As a general rule, good taxes are those other people have to pay and bad are those you have to pay yourself.
Key is making the fairly safe bet that a land tax will have more fans than aggrieved voters - not least because very few voters will have to pay it.
The primary target is foreign investors. Key has indicated it will only apply to New Zealanders who stay overseas for more than three years. Oddly enough, that is the same timeframe after which New Zealanders overseas lose their right to vote.
The land tax is being handled by the Key modus operandi. Key tosses an idea forward in a non-committal fashion, lets people get used to it and then goes ahead. It has been this way with everything from the flag change referendum to partial asset sales.
Key began by raising a land tax as something National will look at if an upcoming release of Land Information data shows a high proportion of sales to foreigners. It is safe to assume he already knows it will be higher than people are comfortable with.
He is in the process of trying to pirouette without detection. He knows the U-turn will be politically popular - there has long been unease about foreign property investors. But he also knows he is effectively admitting to something he does not want to admit to: that Labour was right all along.
Key is trying to skip the painful part of acknowledging that by instead debating whether a land tax is better than Labour's recipe of banning foreign buyers. He has developed selective amnesia about the fact that not so long ago in the process of trying to capitalise on Labour's campaign against housebuyers with Chinese-sounding surnames, he did not believe any measure was warranted because there was no problem.
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