Business leaders rate National leader Judith Collins highly for her courage in leading a disjointed National Party into next month's general election. But they believe her run for the ultimate power is too little, too late.
An insurance boss responding to the Mood of the Boardman Election survey said Collins has been impressive; her party hasn't. "The behaviour of her MPs and party has let her down and impacted her momentum.
"Expect to see Judith shine during the election campaign and shine a spotlight on Labour's tax plan, declared and undeclared, and the impact that will have on Kiwi households and businesses. The polling will close up."
The latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll — released one week ago — didn't make for a good start. The Labour Party dropped five points to 48 per cent and National slipped one percentage point to 31 per cent. As preferred Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern was on 54 per cent — holding her high popularity — and Collins had dropped slightly from 20 to 18 per cent.
An experienced corporate director said Collins is "too little, too late" for National. She has improved on the abysmal rankings of the two previous incumbents but "I doubt she has the ability to galvanise the swinging centre vote and will possibly alienate even diehard National supporters."
Collins, an MP for 20 years, first for Clevedon and then Papakura, almost accidently became the second female leader of the National Party on July 14 this year when Todd Muller surprised the nation by standing down after just 53 days in the top role.
Muller was fresh from toppling previous leader Simon Bridges. Muller said: "I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the National Party at this critical time for New Zealand." The mantle and challenge fell to Collins. A former commercial lawyer, Auckland District Law Society president and Housing New Zealand director, she served as Minister of Corrections, Police, Justice and for ACC under the Key and English-led governments.
In the Herald's survey, a technology leader was impressed with Collins' confidence, her knowledge of business and her ability to address the media. "She clearly demonstrates an aptitude for leadership."
David Cunningham, chief executive of The Co-operative Bank, said Collins is smart, gets business and the economy, and is an effective leader.
A real estate leader said considering the issues she had at the beginning, Collins is coming into her own and will get stronger as election day approaches. A banker observed Collins' leadership qualities were obvious from her first press conference as Leader and the way she ranked her front bench, incorporating both Bridges and Muller.
The 165 respondents in the survey were asked to rate Collins' leadership in the short time she since she was elected as National's leader. She scored an overall rating of 3.52 out of five, based on a range of 1=not impressive to 5= very impressive.
Ruth Richardson, former National Finance Minister and Synlait Milk director, said "Judith has been pitch perfect from the get-go. She has a great head on her shoulders and is clearly having fun. She can do 'a Jacinda' and, ace an election victory in seven weeks."
Deloitte CEO Thomas Pippos said the election will in the end turn on the outcome of a 100m sprint, with the Opposition starting a little behind the line. "If anyone in the National Party can pull it off, I think Judith has the greatest ability. Time will tell."
An experienced lobbyist said Collins was in full flight before the Andrew Falloon (resignation) issue which cost National dearly. "She is still not totally back on track but will rally the troops better than most and can tackle Ardern better than any other."
Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid took an ironic view: "Well, we know who is in charge."
Economy push or sugar rush?
Is National's tax policy appropriate in the current economic climate? (Temporary tax cuts, doubled depreciation rate for businesses, loosened debt target and cuts to the government's day-to-day spending.)
Yes - 69%
No - 19%
Unsure - 12%
National's temporary tax cuts that will result in those earning more than $90,000 annually getting $4026 more in their pockets have resonated with the business sector. It is one arm of a policy suite including doubling the depreciation rate for businesses, loosening the debt target and trimming Government expenditure.
BusinessNZ CEO Kirk Hope says changing the debt reduction time-frame makes sense in this environment and reducing taxes to promote growth is consistent with policies undertaken in many developed economies after the GFC. "The key will be to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public expenditure."
Former politician turned banker again, Don Brash (ICBC) said encouraging private sector consumption spending by providing a temporary tax cut, and stimulating private sector investment by doubling depreciation rates, seems a desirable way to encourage private sector activity.
The Herald went out with a snap survey to respondents to the Mood of the Boardroom election survey seeking views on both Labour's and National's tax policies. Some 68 chief executives and directors responded.
Mainfreight CEO Don Braid said the tax cuts were supposedly to stimulate the economy. "I am very unsure if this will work at the upper end of earners. "A more targeted tax rate cut to lower incomes would likely stimulate the economy better and quicker. Reducing the number of bureaucrats working for Government is overdue. "Plenty of savings are available by getting rid of the bureaucracy."
National has pledged 16 months of income tax cuts stepping right back from the debt reduction target it earlier campaigned on to get core Crown debt down to 30 per cent of GDP within 10 years or so.
"The policy is ill-advised," said company chair Rob Campbell. "It is not hard to see that some will benefit from it in the short term. But responsible policy today is not about short term sugar rushes and later regret."
NZIBF executive director Stephen Jacobi agreed it was not the time to be cutting taxes. "Cutting the rate of GST would be a better way to stimulate the economy across the board."
Some criticised the tax thresholds. "Other than it should have maximised out at $3000, top earners did not need another benefit," said an insurance boss. A retailer was in a similar vein. "Lower income earners do not benefit enough and higher income earners benefit too much.
Although the intent is to stimulate spending, it is just as likely in times of uncertainty that higher income earners will save more of this benefit, rather than spending.
"I would have liked to have seen an increase in the tax threshold combined with temporary tax cuts, which would have re-distributed the benefit and offset the proposed postponed minimum wage increase."
The proposals had their champions: "The depreciation changes are excellent and will encourage investment," said a property management CEO. "The removal of ring fencing of losses and the change to the bright line test are bizarre. It's giving away money nobody is asking for. The tax cuts are not structured to boost spending given they mostly benefit higher income earners who tend to spend a smaller proportion of additional income."