Dropping the Overseas Investment Act, giving local government the GST from all new home builds and performance pay for teachers are among the more radical policies advocated by economic think-tank The New Zealand Initiative which launches its election year manifesto today.

Manifesto 2017 is effectively a highlights package of reports and research the NZ Initiative has released in the five years since it was born of a merger between the Business Round Table and NZ Institute.

The aim was to try to focus debate on the issues that matter in the election, said executive director and Manifesto author Oliver Hartwich.

"Politicians in the last few elections have had an enormous amount of side-shows to deal with, from Kim Dotcom to teapot tapes. But really, when has the country had a proper discussion about where it wants to be in the future?" he said.


The Manifesto was designed to challenge the Government and opposition parties to consider big ideas that would fix some of New Zealand's long-term structural problems.

"Is the current Government so stuck in third term-itis that you wouldn't want to give them a fourth term because they are not hungry? Do they just want to cruise to the next term and hope they stay in power?" Hartwich said.

"And for the opposition parties the challenge is: are you stuck to your old ways or are you listening to new ideas and talk about some new ways of running the country?"

The NZ Initiative identifies housing and education inequalities along with low productivity growth as fundamental problems in the New Zealand economy - a view that is probably shared by most political parties.

But some of its solutions to these problems would be considered too hard to sell by politicians.

Dropping all restrictions on foreign direct investment doesn't exactly fit the popular narrative of concern about Chinese property buyers.

And decentralising political power and funding local government with GST is unlikely to play well in the halls of the Beehive.

Hartwich accepts that some ideas might seem radical in a New Zealand context but he argues it is the NZ Initiative's job to bring new policy ideas into the mainstream.


"We take international comparisons as examples. I think that is one of the best ways to convince politicians that an idea is possible," he said. "We're sending our researchers around the world and they are coming back with all the best ideas."

He denies the think-tank runs a right-wing or libertarian ideological approach.

In fact they worked the opposite way, he said.

"We work from the bottom up, we're just figuring out what works and in the end we kind of puzzle all our policies together, then if you step back from it they start to lead to quite a coherent picture."

Hartwich cites as an example the influence the group has had on Labour's housing and urban planning policies.

Housing spokesman Phil Twyford initially had reservations about the NZ Initiative's policy proposals with regard to housing but ended up incorporating several aspects into Labour's policy.

This included plans to relax density and height restrictions along with rural urban boundaries. Labour and the NZ Initiative are also now on the same page with policies to introduce housing infrastructure bonds as a funding option for councils.

The NZ Initiative's opposition to the Resource Management Act (RMA) had also gained mainstream traction, Hartwich noted.

"The Prime Minister gave a speech this week where he ... talked about a post-RMA world, he [Bill English] said: the RMA is probably past its use-by date and we should start again. So we've basically had some success on that one too," he said.

"I think we've got good working relationships with practically all the parties ... maybe not Winston."