Insults flew at the first major multi-party finance debate of the formal election campaign of the election, with National’s finance spokeswoman Nicola Willis lambasting Labour’s Grant Robertson for breaking promises to rein in spending.
Willis accused Robertson of spending significantly more this term than he had promised in his fiscal plan at the 2020 election. The remarks were made at the Deloitte and Chapman Tripp Election Conference debate, hosted by BusinessNZ.
“You have spent more in every single budget than you promised in the 2020 election,” Willis said, citing the party’s 2020 fiscal plan and a Treasury warning about the extent to which Labour spent more in its budgets than it signalled.
“On average this Labour Government spends $600m more than it says it will just six months prior.
“You have broken your promises in the past and I see you will do it again.”
Robertson got in early, accusing Willis of being a professor of “hindsight economics” and noting that National had often been calling for some of the most costly things the Government had been spending money on, particularly during the pandemic.
“During the period of time where we did borrow significantly to get through Covid, virtually all political parties were saying that’s what you needed to do,” Robertson said.
Robertson said about “two-thirds” of extra spending that had occurred had been demand-driven, raising health and education spending as costs rose.
Recent IMF forecasts growth in New Zealand to be among the lowest in the world next year, but Robertson said that cumulatively since the pandemic hit, growth in New Zealand has outpaced Australia and the Eurozone.
The most brutal barb came from Act leader David Seymour to the Green Party’s Julie Anne Genter, who was touting her party’s costed wealth tax plan.
“Julie Anne, I wouldn’t trust you to run the economy of Venezuela let alone New Zealand,” Seymour said. The leftist government of Venezuela has struggled with hyperinflation.
Genter accused Seymour of “projection”, when it came to his tendency to bash government and venerate the private sector.
Genter said the Greens did not dislike the private sector and warned that climate change would have economic impacts worse than the current spike in inflation.
Seymour attacked Genter after she made the point that many other countries had capital gains and wealth taxes.
“I’m glad Kate Sheppard never listened to that logic,” Seymour said, adding that Sheppard might have been an Act voter.
“If we could tax our way to prosperity, all of Julie Anne’s mates would have won the Cold War, Seymour said.
Robertson and Willis feuded over Labour’s policy to introduce a social unemployment insurance scheme (a “jobs tax”), and National’s policy of scrapping the top 39 per cent tax rate.
Willis said scrapping the 39 per cent tax rate would not happen in National’s first term.
Robertson said the social unemployment insurance scheme would not be introduced until economic conditions allowed. The scheme would be paid for by a 1.39 cent tax on every dollar earned - $834 a year on an income of $60,000.
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.