Next week's Prime Ministerial visit to the United Nations will be a triumph.

Some in Wellington's old-school foreign-policy club grump that Jacinda Ardern's schedule is heavy on PR and light on actual diplomacy. Those closer to American society understand the programme is carefully crafted to maximise the value Ardern offers New Zealand in North America.

John Key's programmes in the US focused on meetings with investment banks and fund managers, but it makes no sense for Ardern to replicate that.


Instead, the programme uses Ardern's celebrity as the world's first Prime Minister to take maternity leave to promote New Zealand through popular talk shows.

Those selling New Zealand beef, milk power, wine or holidays gain far more value from Ardern appearing on The Late Show than her holding a bilateral with Turkey or even meeting Donald Trump's trade officials.

Moreover, Ardern will surely do better than Key on Letterman, an appearance which New Zealand's tourism marketing experts still insist was beneficial.

That Ardern's US visit will also benefit her politically is just something the Opposition has to suck up. It is not as if all the disasters confronting Ardern and her Government will be solved by her jet-setting.

Labour strategists breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when Statistics NZ reported growth for the June quarter was 1.0 per cent, double the Reserve Bank's pick.

That historic data leaves hope the Government's Budget Responsibility Rules may yet be met, but it does not hide dangerously low business and consumer confidence.

According to this week's Westpac survey, New Zealanders expectations of whether they will be better or worse off in a year are the worst they have been since the midst of the Global Financial Crisis.

This matches the ANZ's business confidence data.


The Government is quite right that such fears seem overstated given the real state of the economy right now. But that argument underlines how greatly sentiment is being driven by a lack of confidence in Ardern's abilities and those of Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Businesspeople find it impossible to believe a Prime Minister or Finance Minister could ever confuse GDP and the Crown operating balance, as Ardern did with Mike Hosking and Robertson seemed to do later in the day. That, however, is to fail to understand the limits of their backgrounds.

Ardern's entire career has been involved in Labour Party politics as a young activist, staffer and Opposition MP. After student politics, Robertson won a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade but he chose to go down the political rather than economic path, taking his first and only posting at the UN rather than, say, the World Trade Organisation.

Both are smart enough to understand intellectually the difference between GDP and the Crown operating balance but it doesn't come naturally when they are under pressure. No one should sneer.

Most business leaders would probably not be able to immediately explain the difference between reports on New Zealand issued by the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and may even get the two bodies confused.

It would be as inexplicable to Ardern and Robertson how any such confusion could arise as it is to business leaders or economists that anyone could confuse GDP and the Crown operating balance.

Similarly, Ardern and Robertson are unlikely to be able to understand how vandalous it would be to adopt the Tax Working Group's proposal, signalled in this column last week, to tax capital gains on ordinary New Zealanders' KiwiSaver accounts and small businesses but not on owner-occupied homes.

It is now more than three weeks since Ardern announced her new Business Advisory Council (BAC), to be led by Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.

Since then, no further information has been made available but officials from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have been beavering away with Ardern and Luxon on the BAC's terms of reference, workplan priorities, operating model and membership.

For a Prime Minister who desperately needs some basic introductory economics tutorials, getting the BAC up and running should be her most urgent priority.

- Matthew Hooton is managing director of PR and corporate affairs firm Exceltium.