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PoliticsFebruary 21, 2019

Once more unto the beach house: Simon Bridges and the Kiwi way of life


Simon Bridges said the Government Tax Working Group’s call for a capital gains tax was an ‘assault on the Kiwi way of life’. That betrays a very depressing and limited view of the Kiwi way of life, says Hayden Donnell.

The ink had barely dried on the Tax Working Group report and Simon Bridges was already declaring war. It had recommended a capital gains tax on investment properties and income from shares, offset by an income tax cut for working New Zealanders. That was an atrocity in Bridges’ mind. “This Tax Working Group report is an assault on the Kiwi way of life,” his minders presumably typed as he sweatily clambered into some Winston Churchill LARP gear. “I will fight it every step of the way.”

The tweet was dispiriting for anyone who’d hoped for a sober discussion on the equity of our country’s tax system rather than a Civil War against Michael Cullen. Instead of putting forward a constructive alternative case, Bridges seemed to be ready to lead a platoon into battle to defend the baches of Omaha Beach.

But it was also dispiriting in what it said about Bridges’ view of the Kiwi way of life. To him, it seems there’s nothing more quintessentially Kiwi than buying a portfolio of investment properties and hocking them off with no obligation to divert any of your oversized profits to the State. There’s having a beer at the barby, heading to the beach in your jandals on a sunny day, and using the tax-free capital gain from one investment property to fund the deposit on a lifestyle block. Kiwi Onion Dip, sausage rolls, and raising the rent on your third property twice-yearly. In Bridges eyes, the Kiwi way of life is being rich and using property to make yourself richer.

That really is a typical New Zealand lifestyle, provided you speak only to the broad range of New Zealanders John Key used to encounter in the Koru Lounge; the people at the top of this graph and the children waiting to inherit their share of the estate.

But there is another Kiwi way of life. It could involve renting a damp and substandard home in perpetuity, fearing eviction because the next one could be something worse, or no home at all. It could be living in a car or a motel room paid for by the Ministry of Social Development. Or it could be having a mid-sized income – the type that used to comfortably get you a house – and still watching as price growth in a booming untaxed property market outpaces your savings.

Unlike someone with a multi-property portfolio, the people living that Kiwi way of life pay tax on every single cent of their income and every item they purchase. They’re the ones whose lives are made more difficult, and less secure, by New Zealand having an economy geared around property investment – the Kiwi way of life that Bridges wants to defend.

Maybe Bridges doesn’t speak to a lot of people living that other Kiwi way of life. Maybe he usually associates more with people like him, who own four homes and have vested interests in commercial property investment firms. Or his deputy leader Paula Bennett, who owns three properties. Or his shadow attorney general Amy Adams, who owns eight houses. Or his front-bencher Todd McClay, who isn’t sure how many properties he owns. 

More likely, though, he doesn’t mention the people living that way because they vote at a lower rate, and when they do they tend not to vote National. He thinks he can win the next election in the way they’ve been won in the past – by shimmying up to older people with multiple properties and whispering softly in their ear that nothing is ever going to change. If a capital gains tax is an assault on anything, it’s not on the Kiwi way of life – it’s on that Kiwi selfishness. The Kiwi way of lifting up the people who already have enough, and entrenching the position of those who don’t have as much. The Kiwi handout to the already well-off. That’s an assault worth carrying out.

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