Emergency tax measures could be made permanent and rent relief may be considered, but the Government is unlikely to become a direct lender of scale, the Finance Minister has told business leaders.
On Wednesday Grant Robertson spoke to members of BusinessNZ's major companies group via online video service Zoom.
While his speech largely recapped earlier announcements, a question and answer session with BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope gave hints at what is to come as the Government prepares to nurse the economy back to life.
Asked if the Government would consider offering rent relief to businesses, Robertson said it was an issue which was often raised with him.
"We are looking at further support for both the business sector and for households," Robertson said. "We are aware that rent factors in the middle of that broader working capital" issue. Support measures announced so far were "by no means the end of the road".
Robertson's speech came
A tax loss carry-back scheme, which allows businesses to access their previous tax payments as cash refunds, could be made permanent.
"[Revenue] Minister Stuart Nash, who's really been the driving force behind designing it, I know is keen to see it made permanent," Robertson said, adding that a permanent scheme could be adopted to suit early stage companies.
Beyond the wage subsidy, most of the reforms announced so far have related to the tax system or banking.
Hope asked Robertson if the Government was considering direct assistance or grants. "Excuse the pun".
"There's only one Government grant," Robertson said.
"It's going to always be a balance between direct support, using the tax system, balancing around the ideas of loans. We continue to really push the view that people's first port of call does need to be their banks," Robertson said.
"As a Government we've stepped up with more than $20 billion of expenditure over the last few weeks, but we still want that primary relationship with the banks to carry on," Robertson said.
He added however that "we're not taking off the table the possibility of direct support".
The Business Finance Guarantee scheme, which sees the Government put up money alongside banks for working capital loans, could be extended to non-bank lenders, Robertson said, if the Government could be satisfied with the risk it was taking on.
Hope said businesses had complained that the loans were difficult for small businesses to obtain, while the rates were often high.
Robertson said if any business was unhappy with the conversation they had with a bank about the scheme, they should try again.
"Go back now that we've signed the deeds, now that the banks have got themselves the full level of comfort they needed to be part of the scheme, and have that conversation again."
The scheme offers loans of up to $500,000 to businesses with between $250,000 and $80m in annual revenue.
Apart from for very large companies which were structurally significant to the New Zealand economy, Robertson indicated he was reluctant to offer loans directly to businesses.
"Direct support would be a major shift and we want to continue to reserve that for the most economically significant, network significant businesses," Robertson said. "[I'm] pretty loath for the Government to become a major direct lender at the moment."
Robertson's speech gave an indication that the intent of moving from alert level 4 in the Covid-19 response to alert level 3 would broaden the number of businesses which could operate from those which were "essential" to those which were safe.
Asked if directors could be liable under health and safety law, Robertson said he would seek advice, but said there would be responsibilities for companies.
"There certainly will be obligations on employers to be able to show that they are meeting those basic health and safety requirements."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken about the need for New Zealand's border to be "the smartest in the world".
Robertson said this would include the ability to test people before they arrive, have the ability to quarantine, and possible digital passports. But he indicated that the Government may be considering whether it had the right mix of border agencies.
"We have a wide range of border agencies. If you just think about biosecurity, Customs, Immigration, Aviation Security. So this is also an opportunity for us to take another look at the way we organise ourselves at the border, to make sure we've got coherence around that."