The BulletinSeptember 25, 2023

Gloves come off as Robertson and Willis show their leaders how it’s done


The finance chiefs’ Q&A debate was some of the most compelling TV of the election season so far, 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.

Tempers flare in the TVNZ studios

Grant Robertson and Nicola Willis are two of the best debaters in the House, so it came as no surprise that their Q&A head-to-head on Sunday was so spirited. Perhaps “heated” is a better word – their economic debate was a robust exchange of ideas that bordered on bad-tempered, marked by frequent bouts of extended cross-talk. Willis, who came armed with a pile of documents as a prop to help bolster her points, came across better than Robertson, Duncan Greive writes. The finance minister “came off a little grouchy, regularly interjecting with muttered retorts while Willis spoke – a parliamentary style of debate that felt off, given their close proximity, seated around a table”. Both finance chiefs represent a different, perhaps more ideological vision for their party from the “more sanded down Hipkins/Luxon version”, Greive writes. “Ultimately that was the underlying sadness of this prickly encounter between two smart, principled people: that the country might have been better served if they were instead fronting the leaders’ debate.”

Who would deliver a surplus sooner?

As for what was actually discussed, the debate focused on familiar topics from the campaign so far. Willis attacked Robertson over the government’s alleged profligacy and preference for funding “backroom bureaucracy” instead of frontline public service workers. Robertson attacked Willis over the holes in National’s tax plan, and her claims that they could deliver both tax cuts and a surplus without deep cuts to public spending. She promised that National would be able to deliver a surplus earlier than Labour but, Thomas Coughlan notes, only because she is certain that a Labour government would fail to meet its projected 2027 surplus date. National is promising a surplus in 2027 as well. Putting Willis’s assumptions aside, “the 2027 pledge means for the first time in a long time, National has been unable to promise a rosier fiscal trajectory than Labour,” Coughlan observes.

The mystery of the simultaneous migrant parent policies

No matter the government, surging net migration – which is on track to add almost 2% to New Zealand’s population in 2023, according to some economists – could be a key factor in any potential economic turnaround. In a remarkable example of political mind meld, National, Act and Labour all released immigration policies aimed at migrant parents and grandparents on Saturday. All three visas – Super Visa (Labour), Unite Visa (Act) and Parent Visa Boost (National) – would allow parents to stay at least five years, with differing requirements for family support and eligibility for NZ Super and other entitlements. RNZ has a good rundown of the details of the various proposals. Labour is also promising amnesty for overstayers who have been in the country for 10 years or more. Labour’s plan (including some other tweaks to the immigration settings) has had a mixed response from advocates. Migrant Workers Association President Anu Kaloti said the amnesty would see “very little uptake and benefit” because a 10 year threshold is too high.

State housing and state highways in the policy spotlight

The weekend’s other policy announcements revolved around some nice round numbers. Labour promised 6,000 new public homes by 2027, on top of the 21,000 homes it’s on track to deliver by 2025. Serendipitously, Max Rashbroke is investigating the politics of state housing on The Spinoff this morning, asking the question: is it really as simple as “Labour built state homes, and National sold them off”? Meanwhile National has promised to reinstate 100kph speed limits that have been reduced to 80kph, and return 30kph sections of roads to 50kph. It would also increase speed limits to 110km/h on the Kapiti Expressway and Transmission Gully, and on the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway if a current review finds that would be safe. “Although Labour has had a single-minded focus on safety, alcohol and drug use is the number one contributor to road fatalities,” said transport spokesman Simeon Brown, adding that National would step up roadside alcohol and drug testing instead.

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