In any normal time, the political leaders would have been put through their paces and challenged by business chiefs on their election policies.
The 2020 election is like no other.
The Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland saw BusinessNZ move the conference online.
Instead of a pumping crowd, there was a sea of empty chairs. Mask-wearing journalists and a guy who sanitised the lectern in between four political leaders: James Shaw (Green Party), David Seymour (Act), Judith Collins (National) and Jacinda Ardern (Labour).
Winston Peters (NZ First) appeared through video-link and BusinessNZ's members watched online.
Tim McCready summarises the show.
Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern was positive. She highlighted everything her Coalition government had done to support business through Covid, and reiterated "the best economic response is a strong health response."
"Ours is a response I will defend as being among the very best in the world, because not acknowledging that would be a disservice to five million new Zealanders who made it happen," she said.
2020 has not been easy: "For business it has been hard and disruptive — a pandemic sweeps away business as usual. It is incredibly hard for business to plan in a global pandemic."
But she said there was a limited window of opportunity to leverage our reputation as a "clean, green, and safe nation".
"We will launch an investment attraction strategy… and compete to win the global companies we want to invest in New Zealand and locate part of their business here."
Ardern said New Zealand could use its standing to attract more investment like Microsoft's plant establish its first data centre in New Zealand.
"We have a plan and we are rolling out that plan ... "Supporting our people, our businesses, and our international reputation".
National leader Judith Collins spent a significant time pointing out the flaws in the current government — beginning with its response to Covid.
The prospect of yoyo-ing in and out of lockdown is a significant impediment to business, and she criticised what she called the "mind-blowing stupidness" that saw the Government allow corner dairies to open during lockdown period but not the butchers and greengrocers next door to them.
"Let's put essential industries aside. We should be looking at what's a safe industry."
She was also vehement in her denunciation of Labour's failure to fulfil its promises.
"We would not promise to build 100,000 houses in ten years. We would not promise light rail up Dominion Road and then not do it. We would not cancel or delay 15 roads. We will deliver on what we promise," she said.
Collins spoke of her vision for New Zealand in the wake of Covid-19.
"It's an opportunity for New Zealand which we can either ignore and worry about everything that might go wrong, or we can seize the opportunities.
"It is a time for vision. That vision does not mean going back to the past."
New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters joined via video link from his hotel room, while on his bus tour of the South Island. He started by criticising the Labour-led Government asking "what are we doing in lockdown in the South Island when [the re-emergence of Covid-19] is an Auckland issue?"
He said New Zealand is entering a completely new era — "we are not going to revert back to how things were just a few months ago".
The Greens also came in for criticisim. "If you are sceptical that 'woke' is a problem, let me say: 'Green school'." Labour's proposed Matariki holiday was also slammed, along with its proposal to increase the top personal income tax rate to 39 per cent — "taxing people will not regain our prosperity."
As for New Zealand First, Peters said it is standing on several platforms, "one is the experience we bring to office and the moderating presence we have in Government. And if you doubt that, just two words: capital gains tax."
He wrapped up saying he cannot believe the level of carelessness about the election: "Don't stuff the country. That's what the election is about. Don't stuff the country. You've got two votes — buy some insurance."
The Greens don't always get an easy run with business. But many have an affinity with Greens co-leader James Shaw who was in his element at the BusinessNZ election conference.
He laid out three areas he thinks the NZ economy can expand on, which don't require the physical movement of people.
Shaw pointed to NZ's growth in weightless exports over the last couple of decades — particularly in the ICT sector.
He wants to establish a digital export office at NZTE to give the sector focus and significantly boost exports.
Sustainable agriculture was another opportunity with "value over volume" sitting nicely alongside environmental sustainability. "We need to move more towards supporting farmers and growers to enable them to take advantage of that and support them through the transition," he said, adding that he'd love to finally be rid of the false narrative of town versus country.
But if he had to pick a winner for New Zealand, Shaw said it would be the development of electric transport. He said NZ has an advantage here — including using technologies developed for the America's Cup: "We have a niche industry that is starting to emerge here that I think we could encourage and grow — that will ultimately lead to significant exports as the whole planet addresses the need to decarbonise."
Act leader David Seymour opened up by likening the Government's borrowing to "fiscal child abuse," due to the amount of debt that future generations will have to deal with.
He told the BusinessNZ audience that New Zealand needs to stop comparing itself to Victoria and Sweden, and instead seek to do better. "Why are we not Taiwan?," he asked. Seymour suggested we'd have a better outcome if we relied on both the public and private sector in our Covid-19 response, and not just the Ministry of Health.
In terms of encouraging future growth to aid our recovery, Seymour said we need to allow businesses to grow without restriction.
He said the current regulatory environment is unattractive to value-added tech — citing genetic engineering as an example — and thinks we could make good progress in this area if not for the "medieval superstitious genetic engineering rules". It was a similar situation for fintech: "we might be able to get Kiwis back if our regulations weren't so hostile."
Foreign investment restrictions should also go: "We desperately need capital to raise productivity, we need to strengthen relationships and investment connections with democratic OECD countries."
"There is no better vote you can give to raise the standard of debate in parliament and ensure we come out stronger as winners."