English a clear winner but some CEOs have respect for Labour's Finance spokesman, writes Bill Bennett
If the government changes later this month there will be a radical shift in economic policy. Although New Zealand's business leaders have a favourable view of some individual Labour policies, they see the party's overall plan as unco-ordinated.
Labour wins praise for its policy of co-investing in significant infrastructure projects with the private sector and local authorities. There's also widespread support from business leaders for universal KiwiSaver, Labour wants greater savings too, among other things, to help bring the exchange rate down.
Plans to accelerate depreciation to encourage new technology investments in the forestry industry get a nod and Kiwibuild, which aims to build up to 10,000 entry level homes each year also has support. CEOs even express interest in the idea of free GP visits for people over 65.
On the other hand Labour's plan to establish a single electricity buyer to bring down prices is unpopular with business. So is the idea of a state-owned insurance company. There's a general dislike of increasing the State's reach into business. One CEO comments: "State-owned entities don't just lack the ability to compete ... they often end up as instruments of social policy. More often they destroy rather than create value."
While Labour's plan for a baby bonus for parents earning under $150,000 gets little general support, one business leader says it's "a good idea but the combined income amount is too high". Another would like the threshold set at $80,000.
Labour gets criticism for a lack of focus. LGFA's Craig Stobo says: "Many Labour policies don't define the problem they set out to solve. Is the Reserve Bank doing a bad job of fighting inflation? Other solutions have an unwieldy state-ownership model rather than working with markets to encourage competition and innovation."
CEOs make no secret they like what they get from Treasurer Bill English and want more of the same. An overwhelming majority - 93 per cent - say the National Party has the best policy mix for business. Many - 82 per cent - say the Government has a co-ordinated plan focused on raising economic performance.
Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon says: "Bill English is the best Treasurer we've ever had." He says English's strategy is integrated, sound and wise. "It's not always politically easy but National have found ways to manage the politics as well as do the right thing economically."
Another CEO describes English as "a safe pair of hands", while a number regard him as a key contributor in National's economic success. English gets recognition for keeping the New Zealand economy afloat through the GFC and devastating earthquakes.
Not everyone is starry-eyed about the treasurer. When English is criticised, it's often for not pushing harder or leaving matters in the too-hard basket. A commenter pulls him up for not getting government spending under control more quickly.
One CEO compares his performance unfavourably with Labour, saying National "has set its face against dealing with one of the most obvious looming fiscal issues, namely the low age of entitlement for NZ Super despite Labour on the left and Act on the right both favouring an increase in age".
This theme is picked up elsewhere: "Tackling superannuation is number one. How irresponsible is it of a government that credits itself as an economic wizard and prides itself on its ability to deal with crisis, to simultaneously refuse to deal with the biggest problem the future holds?"
Elsewhere there's unhappiness over the last government's privatisation programme: "What a waste of political capital on a half-baked idea".
In contrast with National, just 1 per cent of CEOs prefer Labour's policy mix and only one in five regard the party's overall plan as co-ordinated. However, the bigger fear in business circles is not Labour, but what the party might need to do with partners in order to form government.
One CEO says: "With Labour we don't really know what we are voting for," and another worries: "What concessions will Labour need to make to the Greens and Winston?"
Labour Finance spokesperson David Parker gets a good deal of respect, even sympathy, from CEOs. A number describe him as "impressive". Not everyone though. One writes: "David Parker has some fairly ideological views. He doesn't appear to be someone who would easily change his mind once he has a position. He has the ability to argue his case well, even to a sceptical business audience.
"He has put some serious thought into policy development. However, the last six years have been terribly difficult from an international perspective with the GFC, countries on the verge of bankruptcy, banks failing and New Zealand has come through it relatively unscathed - it can't be an accident."
National's promised tax cut, now set down for late in the next government gets two cheers from CEOs. Those who want to see cuts would like a more ambitious approach.
"English could benefit from taking making more courageous decisions around tax."
"I think Bill English is the best Treasurer we've ever had. It's very very integrated, it's very very sound and it's very very wise. It's not always politically easy but they've found ways to manage the politics as well as do the right thing economically.
"I think the fact that he has been not just an idealogue - as he would say 'crash or crash through' - the reality is it's a much more sensible integrated economic setting where the understanding is we want better social outcomes and if we secure those outcomes we'll have better economic outcomes.
"When I look at a state house which has turned from what it used to be - with a gap where a tenant would come out and there'd be a period of refurbishment, renovation, trying to find a new tenant to go in, but the house is empty - an unproductive asset, it's no different from how you turn around an aircraft. You want it in the sky flying as much as possible every 24 hours, not sitting on the ground, on the tarmac. What he's understood is, it's not slash and burn the cost base, which is what businesses do at times as well - but is not very enlightened. That's great for running a private equity firm but not to build something sustainable and long term."
Christopher Luxon, Air NZ