The BulletinSeptember 15, 2023

Queenstown debate no holiday for under-fire Willis


The economic issues debate featured questions about National’s tax plan numbers – and some more off-colour jokes from David Seymour, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Seymour and Shaw draw winces and boos at economics debate

The first major debate of the election cycle took place last night in Queenstown, where Labour’s Grant Robertson, National’s Nicola Willis, Act’s David Seymour and the Green Party’s James Shaw went head-to-head on finance and economic policy. According to Stuff’s Glenn McConnell, Seymour and Shaw “delivered the most memorable performances – although not always for the right reasons.” That’s probably a reference to a couple of extremely questionable one-liners from Seymour, who claimed Act was popular among Wellington public servants, 15,000 of whom he wants to sack by Christmas. “I’m voting Act because I hope you fire that guy in the next cubicle,” was the feedback he was getting, he said. Later he quipped that National should “increase the security budget” of the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, the same ministry he joked about sending Guy Fawkes to last month. As for Shaw, his plans for a wealth tax drew loud boos from the crowd. Shaw said he expected a rough reception: “This particular crowd here are people who have got assets over $4 million, so that doesn’t surprise me.” The Greens are proposing a 2.5% wealth tax on assets worth more than $4 million (minus mortgages and other debt) for couples.

Queenstown residents want answers on infrastructure, property prices

Queenstown was an apropos setting for a debate largely focused on National’s housing policy – especially its plan to open the property market to foreign buyers willing to spend $2 million or more on a single home. While National says $2m is high enough to avoid overly skewing the market nationally, it would be a different story in Queenstown where the average home sells for $1.7m. As reported by the Queenstown-based Crux news site, many audience members seemed sceptical of Willis’s assurances that it wouldn’t drive up property prices in the “already piping hot Queenstown Lakes market”, while mayor Glyn Lewers has stated he’d prefer the threshold be set at $3 million instead. One topic that didn’t get much play in the national outlets’ debate coverage was Queenstown’s crumbling infrastructure. Without the luxury of a large ratepayer base like bigger cities, Queenstown urgently needs the ability to introduce an international visitor levy of its own, Lewers told the politicians. Robertson, Seymour and Shaw said they supported the idea, with caveats, while Willis demurred. She did however promise National would “sit down and strike a deal with Queenstown to deliver the infrastructure needed if it becomes government”, Crux’s Kim Bowden reports.

Willis on the ropes over foreign buyers plan

Back to that foreign buyers plan, which was yesterday blasted to bits by a trio of experts who found it would raise around $500 million less than the $740m National claimed. “It’s not a game changer fiscally, but it goes to the credibility of the people who have organised this and want to be senior ministers,” said one of the reviewers, economics commentator Michael Reddell. The experts also cast doubt on the information provided by economics advisory firm Castalia, which checked National’s estimates. Castalia, they said, “cannot be relied on to back National’s estimates” owing to the fact the agency hasn’t “demonstrated what review took place”. All day yesterday Willis was back in the now-familiar position of defending the policy against a barrage of criticism. On the Tova O’Brien podcast she repeated the talking point that National was “rock solid” – though not on the numbers specifically. “We are rock solid that the [foreign buyer tax] policy will work and that it will help deliver our tax plan,” she told O’Brien.

Debates, debates, debates

We’re deep in the throes of election debate season now. Last night also saw a debate on rural issues in Hamilton featuring MPs and candidates from five main parties, plus a “genteel” Wellington Central candidates’ debate moderated by Andrea Vance of The Post. On Wednesday a whopping seven candidates for Auckland Central gathered at Whammy Bar on K’ Road to debate the issues affecting the inner city. Next Tuesday, Stuff’s Great New Zealand Infrastructure debate, moderated by Tova O’Brien, will cover transport, housing, climate resilience and resource management and will stream on Stuff from 1pm. It’s something of a curtain-raiser for the first leaders’ debate that night, screening on TVNZ and moderated by Jessica Mutch McKay. This week Chris Luxon tried downplaying his prospects, calling his opponent a “champion debater, probably the best debater in our parliament”. Unluckily for Luxon, Labour minister Deborah Russell has the receipts. For more on Luxon’s transparent attempt to pull a Color of Money-style hustle on Hipkins, listen to the new episode of Gone by Lunchtime.

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