The backdrop to economic policy this general election will inevitably be Covid-19 and the path to recovery. Mike Tweed asks what we want from our MPs and what the candidates are offering.
New Zealand's export market will be key to Whanganui's economy, Whanganui & Partners' interim chief executive Gaelle Deighton says.
To do that she said New Zealand needed to build up its "brand" and secure strong trading partnerships.
"Given the importance of manufacturing, logistics and agriculture to our local economy, growing our export market is key to it's growth," she said.
"Our businesses also need the ability to tap into to the market in larger centres around New Zealand, and investment in transport and digital infrastructure plays a big role in our economy.
Enabling access to relevant re-skilling and upskilling opportunities in the regions will also help our businesses and individuals take on new opportunities and adapt to the demands of the future."
Deighton said that there had been a good economic recovery in Whanganui "overall" but it was still important that there was targeted support available for "our most impacted sectors" such as tourism and hospitality businesses.
"In the longer term, the development of policy that instills strong confidence in businesses to invest in themselves will be critical to economic recovery."
Louise Bird from recruitment agency Outsourced Personnel said if there wasn't a major difference between a living wage and an income from a benefit, there wouldn't be motivation to secure employment in the future.
"If business owners do complain that raising the minimum wage would really impact them, I think it demonstrates that their business model isn't particularly robust," Bird said.
"If you look at Australia, who have had a higher rate for years, their businesses haven't tipped over as a result.
"While property prices in Whanganui might be lower, rates are not, and neither are our general fixed costs."
Sue Stuart, chief executive of The Whanganui Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said they would like the Government to re-evaluate how it apportions funding.
The Manawatū-Whanganui district is too wide, with our neighbours consuming much of the available funds," Stuart said.
The Whanganui District is proving to be buoyant and successful, therefore we see it worthy to be eligible for funding consideration separate to Manawatū.
"Stimulants the Government could offer to ensure sustainable recovery could be a range of tax, business and growth incentives to ensure economic growth, in turn growth in business and employment, which will generate greater Government revenue.
"The chamber would expect to see Government continue with the support initiatives we have seen during 2020 and increased support to commercial landlords will be important for continuity of workplace status for many businesses."
Stuart said an increase in the minimum wage would be "challenging to implement for most businesses during this time".
"It would be disappointing to see the Government implement such an increase when businesses are already struggling to recover from the Covid-19 lockdown and the uncertainty of the economy for the imminent future."
On Monday, the Māori Party announced an incomes policy that included raising the minimum wage to $25 an hour, doubling baseline benefit levels, and raising abatement rates for benefits and student allowances.
Stopping the "two-tier unemployment system" was key in resetting the country's economy, Māori Party co-leader and candidate for Te Tai Hauāuru Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said.
"As Māori and Pacific Islanders, we are often worse impacted by downturns in the economy, for a whole lot of reasons," Ngarewa-Packer said.
"We need to assist our whānau, assist our working poor, and stop our rangitahi from leaving school because they have to help the household income.
"We need to be very united in what shape our regional economy should take, and how our labour force can transition.
"It should be an economy that's not just based on GDP, but an economy that's based on the wellbeing of our communities."
Adrian Rurawhe, Labour MP for Te Tai Hauāuru, said while it was important to "invest in our people", the Māori Party's financial proposals "only included expenditure".
"My preference is not to make people dependent on benefits, but to create job opportunities for them. That's a far better path forward," he said.
"We need to create sustainable employment, and we need to create an environment for iwi, non government organisations, private business and local government to be on the same page to look at development.
"Government can't do this alone, and we need all those parties on board."
Labour candidate for Whanganui Steph Lewis said the Government's funding of the Sarjeant Gallery and Whanganui Port showed the importance of "leaving a legacy".
"We need to make sure we're preserving that taonga and handing it down to the next generation," Lewis said.
"Part of that port funding will include an amount that will go to supporting young people in Castlecliff to actually train and upskill and get jobs in the port precinct, which I think is really important, and something I'm most proud of.'
Lewis said Labour had "known for a long time" that the job market in New Zealand was changing.
"A lot of the jobs that we're used to seeing will disappear, and there are dairy farms that are already moving to being completely automated.
"We need to support people to retrain, upskill, and get back into the workforce in a higher skilled, higher wage job."
National MP for Whanganui Harete Hipango said Labour's "blanket policies" had negatively impacted farmers and the agriculture sector, which would play an important role in the country's economic rebuilding.
She also questioned the Government's proposed increase in tax on New Zealand's highest earners - those earning more than $180,000.
"If you're targeting your highest-income bracket income earners, one has to question whether that's incentivising and encouraging people to work hard to succeed if they're going to be hit harder there," Hipango said.
"One would of thought you would capture that middle bracket and take the tax rate from 33 per cent and bring it down a bit, as opposed to raising taxes."
National's Job Start and Business Start policies would create new jobs and help people "get back on their feet" post Covid-19, Hipango said.
"The total lens has been on Covid, and I understand that it's an infection that's come in without a vaccination, but comparing us to other countries in the world is like apples and oranges.
"If we get our borders tight and secure, then we can open it up safely and help the flow of the economy."
New Conservative candidate for Whanganui Jonathan Marshall said the only way to grow the economy in Whanganui effectively was to "increase our GDP".
"To do that we only have one course of action, and that's manufacturing," Marshall said.
"Past governments have entertained China and Australia as our trading partners, and we send just about all our primary produce overseas to be manufactured only for us to buy it back.
"The next question is, can New Zealand manufacture products competitively against other nations? The simple answer is yes, and it's how we do it.
Globalism and neoliberalism had "not helped Whanganui at all in the past", Marshall said.
"Effectively, Whanganui has to own its own direction, and how New Conservatives can help in that regard is to make sure there is research development available to Whanganui to discover what their own strengths are.
'We need to know what consumers, especially those overseas, want to buy of us, that's really where it's at.
Marshall said his party supported a zero tax rate for those with an income of $20,000 or lower, which would effectively double to $40,000 if there were "two breadwinners" in a family.
New Zealand was at a critical point in its history, Green Party candidate Alan Clay said, and shared Rurawhe's view on the importance of sustainable employment.
"We're investing in a lot of money in getting through this crisis, and we should building a sustainable future with that money.
"We need jobs that aren't just temporary, but are ongoing businesses and are sustainable in the climate we're going to have, and the world we're going to have.
Clay said that people "who had the means should be paying the tax", but Labour's announcement on Wednesday of a new top tax rate of 39 per cent for people earning more than $180,000 a year "didn't go far enough".
"We need to bring in more money as a government, and that doesn't bring in quite enough."
Investing in parts of the economy that had "the potential to grow" was the most important part of New Zealand's economic future, National MP for Rangitīkei Ian McKelvie said.
"In my view, we have a huge opportunity to generate added value in the primary sector and we also have a great shortage of labour in the primary sector.
"So, combined with a bit of technology and a whole lot of retraining and perhaps in some cases, better pay, there's a massive opportunity for new jobs in that sector to be created for New Zealanders, that have historically been filled by RSC workers and overseas labour.
"The other big thing is to get infrastructure that's going to grow our economy for the future.
"The current Government has a little bit of that in mind, but our [National's] infrastructure projects are specific to the growth of the economy."
McKelvie said the increase of automation in primary industries would also present "exciting opportunities".
"That's because advanced technology would need to be operated by experts, he retraining and retooling of that sector, and it's about having the capital to keep that going."
Labour candidate for Rangitīkei Soraya Peke-Mason said Labour's tax raise on top earners would help raise funds for education, health, and Covid-19 debt.
"While that won't bring in all the necessary revenue, it's a good place to start," Peke-Mason said.
"In terms of raising the minimum wage, we need to be careful, especially considering the climate we are currently in, and the fact that small businesses are suffering."
Peke-Mason said technology was a part of "here and now, as well as the future".
"In 10 years, technology will have advanced in every sector, and retraining is on the agenda right now."
ACT's Rangitīkei candidate Neil Wilson said his party wants a moratorium on GST for a year followed by a reduction from 15 per cent to 10 per cent.
"ACT wants to unleash our potential. I think it applies to the whole country, and our plan is especially beneficial for rural New Zealand," he said.
"It's not really a debate whether that will or not stimulate our economy and encourage people to work harder and make better use of the money they earn."