Grant Robertson is facing his biggest test yet as Finance Minister. How much our economy panics itself into a coronavirus-induced recession is now, to a big extent, in his hands.
The Reserve Bank clearly won't be rushing to the rescue. It's ignoring calls for an emergency official cash rate cut. Any monetary help from Number 2 The Terrace is still 10 days away. And, in a speech this week, Bank Governor Adrian Orr pretty much told anyone looking for help in the meantime to cross the street and go to the Beehive.
So it's down to Robertson. If delivering his first Budget as a Labour Party Finance Minister brought on a prove-your-mettle sweat, he'd be forgiven for panic-buying underarm deodorant for this task. This has the feel of a make-or-break moment.
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That may explain why he's taking longer than the Australians to come up with a way to help business. They rolled their plan out Thursday, pumping $18 billion into their economy. Our businesses will wait almost a week longer for their rescue remedy.
Robertson is right to argue that taking a bit more time and getting it right is smarter than throwing money at everything that moves. There's little point announcing something next week that looks naive in a month's time. This thing is moving so fast that the $11 million tourism spending a month ago looks hopeless now.
And it's not as if Robertson and his officials are sitting around doodling on their notepads. Pulling together a package by midweek is fast work. They won't be getting any downtime this weekend.
But the problem for Robertson is that, as fast as he's working, he's still a week later than the UK and the Australians. He looks slow by comparison. It leaves him open to accusations of indecision and inexperience and failure to understand how bad this is for some businesses. With 200 restaurant businesses apparently on the brink of collapse, there's a good chance not all of them will last long enough to get Robertson's help. He'll be hoping that number is small.
The trick for Robertson is to blow everyone's expectations. His package must appear well-considered. It's got to look more sophisticated than the Australian response, to justify that extra week. There's a good argument that it has to match the Australian spend. If they've pumped in $18 billion, for an economy of our size, Robertson should free up at least $2.5 billion.
Robertson will understand the need to get this right. This Government's economic credibility rests almost entirely with him. Even voters who don't trust Labour to run the economy still seem to trust Robertson.
He's been handed an absolute shemozzle in an election year. As if elections aren't tough enough, Robertson now needs to help his Government win another term while faced with a recession threatening to claw at savings, house prices, businesses, and jobs and just generally make voters grumpy. He needs to be able to say "I've made a difficult time easier" and have everyone agree that he did.
Voters have high expectations. It's not that long ago we watched the world suffer through the GFC while we emerged relatively well. It's not that long ago John Key and Bill English took the credit for that. Voters will be expecting the same this time around. It's a tough act to follow.
By delaying their relief package by that extra week, Robertson has already written his coronavirus economic script. What happens midweek will determine how we read that story. It'll either be that he's dawdled and been indecisive at the expense of the country, or that he's proven his mettle, resisted calls for a knee-jerk reaction and proven he can manage a looming crisis.
• Heather du Plessis-Allan hosts Drive on Newstalk ZB, weekdays, 4pm-7pm.