New National leader Judith Collins is declining to offer detail on her party’s economic plan for New Zealand, but says policy will be revealed within weeks and that the public should expect something “mildly radical”.
Collins emerged from last night’s National Party emergency caucus meeting as the victor, taking over the mantle of leadership with just 66 days to go until the election, after Todd Muller stepped down citing health reasons.
She tells Nine to Noon‘s Kathryn Ryan that her team is firmly focused on economic recovery post-Covid-19 and that a policy vision would be presented within the next week or two.
She confirms she wants to replace the Resource Management Act and hints at corporate tax breaks and a halt to massive public spending in favour of schemes to grow businesses as a means of bringing jobs.
Collins also offers insight into the caucus’ choice of her as leader and Gerry Brownlee as deputy leader – two party stalwarts with known quantities as ministers and reputations for robustness and ablility to deal with political crisis.
“I don’t think anybody in New Zealand thinks for a moment they’re not too sure who I am or Gerry is,” she says.
“I think that’s really important. We are people with experience and we’ve both had to deal with ministerial portfolios, basically crises.”
Playing down past divisions within her party, she says there is unity of purpose and a willingness to put those issues aside to focus on an election plan. Not surprisingly, competence in running the economy is her main electoral plank and, like Muller, she boasts that her team is able to get results – unlike Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, she says.
“I’m different from the Prime Minister. I think she is an excellent communicator… but communication is not execution and that’s where she has fallen down.
“She is not surrounded by a group of people she can have confidence in. She has a group of three ministers she seems to put all the work on – Grant Robertson, Megan Woods and Chris Hipkins.”
Collins decided this afternoon to dump Michael Woodhouse as shadow health minister after the recent Covid-19 patients list scandal.
Revelations that Woodhouse received a list of people diagnosed with the disease from the now disgraced former chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, Michelle Boag, have put a question mark over his role in the info breach, a debacle that already claimed the scalp of National MP Hamish Walker.
Putting the own-goal behind the party is essential if its policy objectives and warnings of economic disaster are to be heard by the public. Agreeing that the wage subsidy scheme – and keeping people in jobs – was the correct approach to the crisis, Collins says nothing has been put in place since then as the next step to supporting businesses.
“We are going to advocate for some structural changes within the economy,” she says.
Announcements on specific policies will happen “within weeks”.
“You can expect something mildly radical from us because we understand that these are difficult times and we need to think differently,” Collins says.
Hinting at the type of neo-liberal agenda National has in mind, she says there needs to a change to rules and regulations to “free-up” businesses to operate efficiently.
Collins doesn’t rule out tax breaks for businesses, and says the Resource Management Act – based on the principle of sustainable management, which involves considering effects of activities on the environment now and in the future when making resource management decisions – would be scrapped and replaced.
“There needs to be a mindset change and that is business is not a cash cow that we just bleed until it dies and this is something that National knows – that business creates jobs and that’s what we want to see.
“This is not the party to add more costs to business and more costs to people how earn income and actually keeping this economy going… We are very aware that we can’t continue to borrow and spend.”
Covid-19 and the pandemic response has not changed Collins’ economic conservatism in favour of a more state interventionist approach.
She believes the New Zealand economy can grow using free market principles and that subsequent rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will overcome the post-Covid government spending deficit.
Although she agrees with the government’s fast-tracking of public works projects to stimulate economic growth, she says it’s not enough.
Continuing to spend without looking after business interests would “beggar the economy” and see house owners go into negative equity, she claims.
She is absolute on aspect of her policy however, saying there will be no new taxes to increase government income.
“Let me rule this out now, we are not having an asset tax,” she says.
Further asset sales and privatisation under National has not been ruled out either.
Collins also says National would make changes to the government’s climate legislation, to make it easier for growers and farmers to operate.
“We will be announcing any of those issues once we are ready to announce them,” she says.
There would be spending on infrastructure – and cleaning up rivers would form part of that expenditure, as well as prioritising infrastructure upgrades, including ports. Facilitating the emergence of new businesses and supporting native sectors including IT would also remain a priority, she says.
She says there would be no health cuts under National, and there would be a role for the private sector in that space. She would not be drawn into whether the party would invest to improving rundown services and health infrastructure to meet demographic growth.
Collins cites the issue of mental health as one affecting many New Zealanders and says National would push for greater support for families and individuals affected in the new economic climate.
Agreeing in principle that some people would need state housing all their lives, Collins says the current housing crisis had become worse under Labour and the waiting lists increased by 10,000 since National lost the last election. Again, the new leader would not be drawn into how that situation could be adequately resolved.
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