NZ First's Shane Jones has told businesses to invest in automation rather than continue to rely on low-skilled, cheap labour from overseas, saying NZ First would not back down on its wish to cut immigration.
Speaking at a post-Budget business breakfast in Wellington, the Regional Development Minister said immigration levels remained a concern for NZ First despite the Budget forecast of unemployment dropping to four per cent and calls from business that they needed migrants to work.
"I realise we've got to have immigration but we signed up to a deal with the Government that we want to see less immigration in areas where Kiwis should be doing those jobs.
Now if that has the effect of causing firms to automate and deploy greater levels of capital because they can't find the necessary labour, I don't lose any sleep over that at all.
I just don't believe in this vision that we continue to import scores and scores of young men and women from India to do the work our own young people could do, pay them wages that have the effect of depressing wages for Kiwis whereas many of our firms in my view are going to have to automate."
Jones also said the Government would be looking to the private market to help pay for infrastructure under a "mixed model" but he had "deep doubts" about the ability to deliver on projects such as housing in a timely fashion without reform of planning rules.
He said he was involved in the development of the Resource Management Act in 1989.
"I can tell you, in 1989 never in a thousand years did I believe we'd end up with this cobweb of constipation that passes through our planning system."
He said reforming that would be a challenge because the Green Party was a Government partner.
"They believe participatory democracy ought to enjoy a higher priority than perhaps I do, because my leader is the godson of Muldoon, Winston Peters. So we think a bit of essential power is not such a bad idea after all."
Jones was speaking as one of a raft of senior ministers hitting the road to sell Labour's first Budget to the affected sectors.
He began his sales pitch with an unusual technique – describing those at the Grant Thornton breakfast at Pipitea Marae as "a bunch of right-wing, rich, white people."
He recalled being there when the marae was opened in 1980. "Who would have ever thought that it was hosting such a bunch of right-wing, rich, white people."
It got him a laugh and he went on to reassure them that in his experience governments from the centre-left were acutely aware of the need to hold the confidence of business and there should be no distress about what the Government was trying to do.
He said debt levels were "very conservative" and there was leeway for a shock.
"We do know that bleak clouds suddenly arise and we don't want to be in a situation where we are drowning in debt because of our inability to respond on behalf of our society to unforeseen or dangerous events."