Beehive Banter
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Identity politics, housing, the polls, Winston’s comeback?

Inflation is under more pressure as the value of the New Zealand dollar drops.

NBR political columnist Brent Edwards speaks with Grant Walker.

Brent Edwards Fri, 30 Sep 2022

It has been a rollercoaster week, with the dollar continuing to weaken in the face of economic challenges.

But breathe a sigh of relief. Things could be worse. We could live in the United Kingdom, where the pound has crashed after the Conservative Government set out a heavy borrowing programme to fund tax cuts.

Here, Finance Minister Grant Robertson has acknowledged a weaker dollar will push up the cost of imported goods which, in turn, will make it that little bit more difficult for the Reserve Bank to bring inflation back under control.

Act MP Karen Chhour.

Meanwhile, Minister for Children Kelvin Davis has apologised the day after telling Act MP Karen Chhour, who is Māori, that she effectively was not Māori enough.

In answer to questions Chhour was asking about the partnership between John Tamihere’s Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust and Oranga Tamariki, Davis said Chhour needed to cross the bridge that was Te Tiriti o Waitangi from her Pākehā world into the Māori world to understand how the Māori world worked.

“It’s no good looking at the world from a vanilla lens,” Davis said.

He eventually apologised but too slowly for Act.

Act Party leader David Seymour said central to the comment was a belief that identity could disqualify someone from doing a job.

“People offended by Davis’s comments that Karen’s identity disqualifies her from her job should ask themselves, how many people will find themselves in that position under Labour’s policies?” Seymour said.

He thinks Labour waited for the public backlash before responding.

Act Party leader David Seymour.

The polls

Meanwhile, Labour clawed back one percentage point in the latest 1News-Kantar Public Poll to record 34% support. National remained steady on 37%, Act dropped 2 to 9%, the Greens were steady on 9%, and Te Paati Māori got 2%. Most coverage pointed to a National-Act Government under those numbers, narrowly ahead of the centre-left bloc.

Most appeared to ignore New Zealand First, which scored 3% support, the same as the previous poll. On straight numbers, that is not good enough to get the party seats in Parliament, if that were the election result.

Another comeback for New Zealand First leader Winston Peters?

But in previous election cycles, New Zealand First has rarely got 5% in the year before election year. It normally wins a late surge of support, and its leader Winston Peters is likely to be comfortable with where the party sits at the moment.

Do not rule out another comeback for Peters and his party in the 2023 election. That might mean – depending on how the votes fall – that to govern, National would need not just the support of Act, but also that of New Zealand First.

Stranger things have happened.

Labour might have got some relief from the latest poll in that its support rose slightly, rather than continued to decline. But it faces tough times.

The worldwide economic turbulence that is buffeting the New Zealand dollar and will likely have a wider impact on the economy here makes it more difficult for the Government heading into election year. 

The jobs tax 

Why then is Labour intent on introducing a new income insurance scheme, which will add up to a tax on both workers and employers?

NBR presenter Grant Walker pointed out that BusinessNZ supports the idea and, indeed, that organisation and the Council of Trade Unions raised the concept with the Government.

Just earlier this year, when the discussion document was released, BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope urged the National Party not to play politics with the issue.

The business organisation is, however, pretty silent on the matter now, as many employers oppose it. And National did not follow Hope’s advice, repeatedly attacking the Government over its proposed ‘jobs tax’.

In the lead-up to the election, as price rises still bite, the last thing voters might appreciate is that their take-home pay is going to fall because of the ‘jobs tax’. An income insurance scheme might make policy sense but at this time it makes little political sense. 

National Party housing spokesperson Chris Bishop.

Big housing promise 

This week, National Party housing spokesperson Chris Bishop has loosely promised a National-led Government would spend up big on social housing.

In an interview on RNZ’s Morning Report, Bishop criticised the big increase in spending on emergency housing and the jump in the waiting list for a state house.

“We will build enough state and social housing so there is no social housing waitlist,” he said.

That is a big promise, which would cost billions of dollars, although, as Walker rightly points out, Bishop did not give a timeline for when the social housing waiting list would be resolved. 

Government finances  

Talking money, next week the Crown financial statements for the 12 months to the end of June will be released. Based on the interim financial statements for the 11 months to the end of May, they may give Robertson reason to crow.

At the end of May, the operating balance before gains and losses recorded a deficit of $7.5 billion, $5.5b better than forecast.

That was largely driven by a stronger-than-expected tax take and lower government spending. Much of that was expected to flow through to the end-of-year numbers.

But, more importantly, given the economic uncertainty around the world, what will the numbers look like next year and the years after?

Whichever party leads the Government after the next election will face difficult times ahead and some tough fiscal decisions.

Brent Edwards is NBR’s political editor.

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Identity politics, housing, the polls, Winston’s comeback?
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