Tax has emerged as the main flashpoint showdown in this election - it is the area in which National and Labour have crossed swords the most and they have significantly different offerings on their slates for voters.

National has income-tax cuts on the table which will kick in next April and let all workers on more than $14,000 a year keep a bit more - a bit more than $1000 a year for every worker on more than $52,000.

It is also offering families on low incomes more by way of Working for Families and the Accommodation Supplement. It estimates its "families package" will help 1.3 million families by an average of $26 a week as well as 750,000 superannuitants by $13 a week and 41,000 students.

Click here to view the policies interactive


Labour's rival "families package" will scrap those tax cuts to use the $1.9 billion for its policy pledges in areas such as fees-free education for tertiary students, a far more generous Working for Families package and a new universal payment of $60 a week for parents of newborn babies once paid parental leave runs out.

While Labour's package has little to offer workers without children or those who are not eligible for Working for Families, it says its package will help 70 per cent of families with children. By way of compensation for superannuitants who will no longer get the flow-on benefits of Nationals' tax cuts, it is offering a winter-heating cash injection of $450 a year for singles and $700 for couples.

Labour will use the savings from scrapping the tax cuts to put extra money into health and education - in particular its policy to phase in three years' free tertiary education, which will cost at least $1.2 billion a year by the time it is fully in place.

National has argued that will take $1000 out of the pockets of blue-collar workers to pay the university fees of lawyers and others who can expect a high income after graduating.

Labour is betting that because those workers are not yet getting that extra money, they will not miss it, and argues its free education policy also benefits tradies in training - not just university students.

Both National and Labour intend to clamp down on multi-national companies paying tax on profits in New Zealand - measures that have broad support among the smaller parties as well.

As for the future, National is looking at another set of tax cuts and other assistance further down the road - after the opening of the books before the election campaign, Joyce said 2020 would be the earliest.

Bill English upped the ante on that in the Newshub debate on Monday, saying he would commit to reducing the number of children in poverty by 100,000. He said that could be done through the combined effects of the two incomes packages.

Labour will organise a Tax Working Group to provide it with advice on changes to the tax system - and that is what has caused leader Jacinda Ardern the most trouble on the campaign trail.

Jacinda Ardern and Bill English during Leaders Debate in Auckland. Photo / Newshub
Jacinda Ardern and Bill English during Leaders Debate in Auckland. Photo / Newshub

Ardern has now ruled out income-tax increases and says income tax will not be part of the working group's remit, but it will look at other taxes including capital gains tax on property, taxes on other assets and on wealth, and on consumption.

While former leader Andrew Little had pledged to campaign on any new taxes in the 2020 election, Ardern has reserved the right to impose new taxes in a first term without putting them to the electorate. Her argument is that if a tax reform could impact on something such as housing affordability, she does not want to wait until 2020 to put it into effect.

Ardern has also pointed at National's move in 2009 to increase GST from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent, despite promising not to do so. That was done at the same time National last delivered an income-tax cut, which it said made the tax cuts fiscally neutral.

National has attacked Labour for "vague" policies and uncertainty, and English joked Ardern was averaging two new taxes a week as leader after she announced in quick succession a regional fuel tax for Auckland, charges on all commercial users of water, and a tourist tax.

There is also a different menu on superannuation between the two big parties - and a reversal of each of their positions from 2011 and 2014.

National now wants to start lifting the retirement age to 67 after 2037, while Labour intends to keep it at 65 despite campaigning to change it to 67 for the past two elections.

Ardern increased the stakes on that, saying that she would resign rather than raise super. That is the same pledge former Prime Minister John Key made when trying to get into Government in 2008 - but English has accused Ardern of letting down her generation because they would have to foot the cost of it.

Both will restart contributions to the Super Fund - but Labour will start those earlier.

The debate over the super age could well prove to be redundant given current polling, as both Labour and National will need NZ First to form a government - and NZ First leader Winston Peters has made keeping the super age at 65 one of his bottom lines.

Underlying all of this is the ongoing debate about economic management. National has claimed Labour has a multi-billion hole in its budget, which Labour has strongly denied.

Earlier in the year, Labour and the Green Party both committed to a budget responsibility creed to ensure they returned surpluses every year and continued to pay down debt.

National is committed to reducing debt to 20 per cent of GDP by 2020 and is on target to do so.

Labour has pledged to remain in surplus and continue to reduce debt - but it will borrow more in the short term to fund some of its promises such as the Super Fund payments and the $200 million it needs to start the first tranche of its KiwiBuild house building programme.

On its own forecasts it will not reach the debt target of 20 per cent of GDP until 2022 - two years after National.

The smaller parties' policies could also impact if they are in a support arrangement with National or Labour after the election.

NZ First wants high-income earners to pay more tax and the minimum wage to go up - but it has also called for a review of Working for Families if wages go up, saying it discriminates against childless people and is used by some employers as an excuse to keep wages lower.

The Act Party is sticking to its traditional low tax mantra, looking for drastic cuts to income taxes and company taxes and a shelving of government subsidies of corporates by way of grants. Act has also accused National of negligence by waiting so long to raise the super age, and wants to start moving it up from 2020.

The Maori Party is proposing allowing workers who can not work until they are 65 to retire early, and wants to reduce the tax burden on poor workers and increase it for richer workers. It is also proposing a tourist tax to help pay for Maori heritage sites.

The Opportunities Party's Gareth Morgan has the most interesting but challenging proposals - he wants to give young adults, the elderly and families with young children a weekly payment of $200 a week by way of a Universal Basic Income.

He is also proposing reducing income tax but charging a tax on all assets, such as homes, land and shares.

Uncertainty over tax means vote for Nats

David Han, a small business owner, says there is uncertainty about Labour's tax plans. Photo / Supplied
David Han, a small business owner, says there is uncertainty about Labour's tax plans. Photo / Supplied

David Han is part owner of a small accountancy business, a home owner and owns a rental property in Auckland. He does not like uncertainty - so tax is fairly high on his agenda when it comes to how he will cast his vote.

He has followed the debate and policies on the economy and taxes closely and says his main concern is what Labour might do with its Tax Working Group if it got into Government.

He had heard National leader Bill English's line in the first televised debate that the New Zealand public was not an ATM for the Labour Party and it resonated.

He was on a salary and would benefit from National's income-tax cuts but said while $20 a week was "helpful" it was conservative and not enough to impact on his voting decisions.

"What I'm afraid of in terms of a Labour government is that there is lots of uncertainty about the taxes. That creates a lot of uncertainty, especially for me as a business owner.

"I think [Labour leader] Jacinda Ardern has tried to avoid details on the taxes because they know it is not going to be popular among middle to higher-income voters."

He said some people believed a capital gains tax was fair and he was uncertain whether it was a good or bad thing, but believed any tax would end up being passed on to tenants in rent.

He said all parties should campaign on a tax policy rather than springing it on voters.

He was also critical about National's move in 2009 to increase GST as part of the tax reforms without going to the polls on it first. "They just were not open enough to the New Zealand public."

He had not voted for National in the past two elections but would this time.

He was also concerned about some of the larger spending promises on both sides, but especially Labour's fees-free policy for students who were already benefiting from interest-free student loans.

"I see a yoyo situation right now. National saves the money and then the Labour Party starts spending it again."