National leader Christopher Luxon has told an audience of business leaders he would treat them like adults.
He implied the relationship between business and the current Government had occasionally been akin to a parent’s relationship with a child.
“I want us to actually work together in an adult-to-adult way, not a parent-child way, which is what I feel has been happening in New Zealand over the last six years,” Luxon said.
He was speaking at the Deloitte and Chapman Tripp Election Conference, hosted by BusinessNZ.
In his speech, which was warmly but not rapturously received, Luxon paid tribute to business as the “lifeblood” of the country and laid out his plan for the economy, which he said would focus on education, infrastructure, deriving capital investment, enabling small and medium-sized businesses, and digitising government.
All party leaders were invited to speak, including Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who was celebrating his 45th birthday.
Hipkins, speaking after Luxon, defended the Government’s choppy economic record this term, noting that just days into the job he was faced with the Auckland weather bomb and, weeks later, Cyclone Gabrielle.
He reminded business leaders that New Zealand’s debt was still low relative to other nations and made a pitch to forge on with Labour’s social agenda.
“An economy dragged down by poverty and exposed to the ravages of extreme weather is bad for business,” Hipkins said.
“Our economic fundamentals are in good shape.”
He said one of the greatest things the Government could do for working people was to bring inflation back down to the 1-3 per cent Reserve Bank target band. It is currently 6 per cent.
He claimed National’s tax cuts would be inflationary because they would inject billions of dollars into the economy. National argues they are not inflationary because the cuts are paid for by spending cuts and tax hikes elsewhere.
Hipkins joked that, despite being the leader of the Labour Party, his decision to go into the election on a package of minor tax changes meant he was “one of the greater fiscal conservatives” in the campaign.
He also took aim at National finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis, whose foreign buyers’ tax has been under scrutiny for potentially breaching international tax treaties.
“The idea they would say, ‘Well, no one is going to make a diplomatic issue out of that anyway’ I think is quite concerning,” Hipkins said.
“Our reputation … is critical for our businesses.”
Act’s David Seymour took the opportunity to announce a productivity strategy at the conference.
He also said Act would not be charging interest costs on student loans, something Labour has falsely alleged a National-Act government would do, despite neither party saying so.
In a long speech to the conference, NZ First leader Winston Peters spoke about the Treaty of Waitangi and the use of “Aotearoa” to describe the country.
He announced former Wellington mayor Andy Foster as his party’s candidate for the Wellington electorate of Mana.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw began his speech needling Peters by riffing on the word “Aotearoa”, which is in his party’s full name.
The conference also invited lawyer Sue Grey of Freedoms New Zealand, Matt King of Democracy NZ and Bruce Welsh of the New Conservatives.
The three shared a panel on which Grey attacked the globalist agenda but also talked up the merits of exporting wool to places like Yorkshire.
Welsh spoke of the importance of reinforcing the family unit, while King said the secret to good governance was not doing “dumb stuff”.
The conference was also a chance for Deloitte, Chapman Tripp and BusinessNZ to unveil a survey of how BusinessNZ members were feeling leading into the election. This year 876 members completed the survey.
A full 85 per cent of businesses said the Government did not have a plan for lifting New Zealand’s economic performance, up from 65 per cent in the 2020 survey.
Ninety-three per cent complained changes made by the Government in the past three years had increased the cost of doing business.
The survey showed businesses wanted lower taxes and most did not want a capital gains tax or a wealth tax. Perhaps surprisingly, however, 29 per cent of businesses wanted a capital gains tax reconsidered (61 per cent said no), and 18 per cent supported a wealth tax (67 per cent said no).
Business was pessimistic about nearly everything, including three areas where the Government was aiming to reduce costs to businesses.
Despite the whole thrust of the Three Waters reforms to reduce rates – a key cost for businesses – 80 per cent said they were pessimistic that the “economic gains” touted by the Government would be realised.
Sixty per cent did not think the Government was doing enough to attract investment to New Zealand, with just 12 per cent saying enough was being done.
Only 7 per cent believed the Government’s RMA reforms would “satisfactorily support economic development while protecting and restoring the environment”, while 59 per cent answered in the negative.
Businesses are increasingly worried about the cost of climate change, with 59 per cent saying it was affecting input costs, 53 per cent saying it affected insurance costs, and 48 per cent saying it affected the cost of the products or services they sold.
Thomas Coughlan is deputy political editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.