The Coalition has won some praise, but there is a feeling the Government is underdone, writes Tim McCready.

One year into the Coalition Government and the pressure is on the political leaders to publicly paper over the cracks and present a united face to bolster economic confidence.

In the 2018 Herald Mood of the Boardroom survey — taken in association with BusinessNZ — some 150 chief executives have delivered their verdict on the Jacinda Ardern-led Coalition Government.

The Coalition has worked to expectations according to 59 per cent of survey respondents; 15 per cent feel it is working even better than expected.


Just 23 per cent say worse.

Forging a coalition Government between Labour and New Zealand First with support from the Greens was always going to be a challenge.

"Unlike previous coalitions, its structure is more complex," explains a professional services chairman.

Several respondents throughout the survey have suggested they expected the influence of NZ First and Winston Peters would be problematic.

But others point to NZ First as a potentially moderating influence when it comes to acknowledging the harmful impact on business confidence from union-led employment law reforms.

Chen Palmer managing partner Mai Chen points out the Coalition Government is leading innovations like the Wellbeing Budget and climate change initiatives which will change the focus of the country for the better.

"In general, the pace of change is more measured as is the amount of spend than past Labour-led governments," Chen says.

"I didn't have great expectations, so although they aren't doing a good job, actually they are doing better than I thought they would," says GlaxoSmithKline NZ general manager Anna Stove.


In their survey responses, CEOs point to several major areas where the Coalition is lacking — particularly a lack of experience, an unclear agenda, and too many reviews.

A lack of experience
Chief executives recognise a new government brings with it speed bumps. But says a banking boss,"I'm surprised at how little depth and capability there is."

Just five Government ministers have previously served in Cabinet, and recent missteps — including the Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri sagas, and open disagreement on policy issues — have dealt a blow to the business community's confidence in the Coalition.

"There is not enough experience in the Cabinet. While they have great ideas, there are some very basic mistakes happening which don't give much confidence at this stage," says a consulting firm head.

The Organic Initiative's Helen Robinson claims the Coalition is being run by government agencies due to inexperienced politicians.

"This was our fear, and continues to be of huge concern for the New Zealand economy and our future economic stability and ability to perform on the world stage," she says.

A healthcare boss said his hopes were not high to begin with: "Unfortunately this is one thing they have delivered on.

"We need them to provide certainty on various aspects and engage properly with the business community."

Too many reviews
"Too many committees — not enough action" was the message from CEOs, over the Coalition's rising number of working groups.

The country's top bosses say that taking time to firm up policies is a by-product of any new government, but speedy policy decisions on critical areas such as tax are needed in order to build credibility and confidence in the Coalition.

"We are waiting for outcomes from working groups set up to review numerous policy initiatives," says a legal chief.

An unclear agenda
"The Coalition Agreement is clear around a range of outputs," says NZ Local Government Funding Agency chair Craig Stobo. "What is uncertain is everything else that arises outside that agreement!"

To remedy that perception the Prime Minister — flanked by both NZ First leader Winston Peters and Greens Co-leader James Shaw — recently unveiled a Coalition Blueprint in front of a handpicked audience including leading CEOs.

A law firm boss gives the Coalition credit for articulating a longer-term vision: "this helps frame a discussion about how we get there."

But making decisions without adequate consultation — such as the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration — had unsettled business, and created uncertainty in a way that was not anticipated by business leaders in the early days of the Government.

There is also concern the Coalition has too many initiatives and "feel good positions" — rather than tangible, clear positions.

"This Government came into office with hugely ambitious goals, particularly in the social space.

"However, they have allowed expectations to develop on how quickly they can deliver, which is creating pressure and leading to a number of fumbles," says a residential construction CEO.

Infrastructure New Zealand's CEO Stephen Selwood says it's hard to see much progress on closing the poverty gap, and suggests the Government should reach out to business.

"Why not a true partnership with business to address these issues, rather than an unnecessary squabble over labour laws?," he says.

Greens co-leader James Shaw was singled out as a standout leader in the Coalition, for his effort to build a constituency in what the Government aims to achieve.

"I've been impressed with Minister Shaw," says a banking boss.

"He's reached out to the business community and our customers, and is right across his topics.

"He's managed to build a broad consensus on climate change and that may well be this Government's legacy."

Air New Zealand's Christopher Luxon agrees.

"I think James has done a really excellent job.

"He's focused, and he knows what he's there to do and he's got the role and he knows this is as good as it gets and he's not going to waste his shot or his opportunity."