National says it will offer businesses a $10,000 cash payment for taking on more staff if it wins the election.

The Opposition's new leader Todd Muller also promised not to get rid of 90-day trials and said there would be "regular, incremental" increases in the minimum wage.

At a speech in Auckland today, Muller announced what it called the "JobStart scheme".

It is the first piece of policy National has announced since Muller deposed Simon Bridges as leader on May 22, promising a focus on how the economy affected people.

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"JobStart will give small business owners greater confidence to hire new people," Muller told members of the Rosebank Business Association.

"Small business owners who create jobs will be the heroes of this economic crisis, in the way that our nurses, doctors and all five million of us who stayed home were the heroes of the health crisis."

National said the scheme would start on November 1 and run until the end of March 2021, in the hope of creating 50,000 new jobs.

The party said to be eligible, businesses "will need to prove that the new hire is an additional full time equivalent over and above their existing labour force".

The scheme will be capped at 10 employees, or $100,000, per company.

Companies would be paid $5000 when the new employee was hired and a further $5000 after the new hire had been employed for 90 days.

The cost of the scheme is capped at $500m.

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This afternoon Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller will unveil National's first piece of policy since he became the party's leader. Photo / George Novak
This afternoon Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller will unveil National's first piece of policy since he became the party's leader. Photo / George Novak

Speaking to reporters in Parliament, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said it was "certainly an idea we're prepared to consider" although warned there were problems.

Robertson questioned whether it would be appropriate for employers to be eligible for a $5000 payment for workers which could then be sacked after 90 days, while there would have to be certainties that the jobs were sustainable and genuinely new.

Small business 'the backbone of the economy'

Muller's speech warned that some New Zealander probably did not realise they were unemployed yet, with New Zealand on the cusp of the worst economic crisis in a generation.

"If you, as small business owners, give just one of your newly unemployed neighbours a job before Christmas, you will be the heroes of the economic crisis, the way that our nurses and doctors and all five million of us who stayed at home and washed our hands were the heroes of the health crisis," Muller said.

Muller said his experience at Fonterra and Zespri meant he understood the value of big business, and wanted New Zealand to have more large companies to capture "the full value" of a value chain for the country.

"But, make no mistake, small business, including our farms, and orchards and rural support businesses, are the backbone of this country, and our economy," Muller said.

"They are the backbone of our country because they provide jobs and work to almost a third of New Zealand workers, and produce more than a quarter of our country's income each year– and because they can be so innovative, agile and potentially grow at a much faster rate than big business."

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The first step in the recovery was maintaining the broad macroeconomic framework of an open economy, an independent Reserve Bank and flexible labour laws, voluntary unionism and a broad-based, low-rate tax system.

Muller also called for more of the economy to be reopened, unless there were reasons to keep them closed.

"National does not start by saying everything should be closed unless the Government says it can be open. Instead, our guiding principle is that everything should be open unless there is good reason for it to be closed."

He supported the establishment of a transtasman bubble as soon as possible.

"We have an absolute focus on safely restoring the tourism and international education industries. I will need to be convinced there are very good reasons why we shouldn't have Australians on our ski fields this season and eating in our restaurants."

Muller also signalled that National would not go to the election proposing higher taxes.

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"We urge Labour, NZ First, Act and even the Greens to provide certainty to small business by adopting the same stance," Muller said.

"National dug New Zealand out of the $50 billion hole caused by the Global Financial Crisis and Canterbury earthquakes with responsible economic management. It took discipline and a focus on growth."

But he did indicated that the minimum wage would be increased over time.

"Under my Government, as under the last National Government, there will be regular, incremental increases to the minimum wage, which some employers, business groups and think tanks won't like – but we'll take that on the chin.

"But a government, like this one, that significantly increases the minimum wage in the middle of a lockdown, when firms have no revenue, simply has no idea about small business or employment at all."

He also promised not to remove 90-day trials.

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"The 90-day trial period is crucial to give a four-person business the confidence to hire that fifth person during these difficult times, or anytime. Under National it will stay."

Talking to media after his speech, he said the 90-day trial should be available to all companies. The Government has restricted it to companies with fewer than 20 employees.

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When Muller said New Zealand did not need three more years of Phil Twyford as a minister, the audience broke into applause.

We have no more confidence in their ability to deliver new trades-training than in their ability to deliver Kiwibuild and Light Rail– that is, we have none," Muller said of the Government.

In a statement Paul Goldsmith, National's finance spokesman, said businesses were starved for revenue during lockdown and many were struggling under level two restrictions.

Goldsmith said "thousands" of small businesses across New Zealand were starved of revenue during the lockdown and many are still struggling under level two restrictions.

"They are desperate for cash flow and this payment could alleviate some of the pressure they're facing while also supporting growth," Goldsmith said in a statement."

Later this afternoon Muller is due to present to BusinessNZ and answer questions on an online presentation.

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