National’s finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, isn’t being deterred by the roasting his party’s leader, Simon Bridges, received this week for suggesting a faster move out of lockdown.
He’s adamant getting people back to work as soon as possible is the key to the economic recovery.
Goldsmith wants to see more corporate welfare, like a targeted extended wage subsidy or cash payments to hard hit businesses.
He also maintains financial support for households will be justified after lockdown, and isn't completely opposed to temporary benefit increases.
Re-opening the border the goal
“We believe we should be moving as quickly as we safely can to open up the border,” Goldsmith told interest.co.nz; also criticising the Government for being too slow to close to the border in the first place.
Goldsmith pointed to the restrictiveness of Level 3, but wouldn’t explicitly say what alert level he believed the country should be at right now, or when the alert levels should change.
87% of those surveyed in a Colmar Brunton poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, after the Prime Minister announced a five-day extension of Level 4, were supportive of the Government’s response to COVID-19.
Meanwhile a Facebook post Bridges made in response to the decesion attracted 29,000 mostly critical comments. This sparked discontent National MPs to grumble to the media, again bringing Bridges’ leadership into question.
Goldsmith said people were “over-reacting”, as Bridges is “doing what everybody would expect the leader of the opposition to be doing, which is asking very basic questions about government policy”.
“I think it’s important, because there’s a lot at stake.”
Additional targeted support for business needed
Goldsmith wanted to see more corporate welfare, but said this should be targeted - possibly though an extension of the 12-week wage subsidy only for “particular groups”, or cash payments to the most hard hit businesses.
He didn’t want to see the “high trust, loose” model used to deploy the wage subsidy to date continued, saying an extension should be more “rigorous” and “focussed”.
In terms of cash payments, Goldsmith said: “Every business is different and has different requirements, so the argument for some cash payment is strong.”
He also wanted to see an Australian-like code of conduct introduced in New Zealand to make it more explicit that commercial landlords and tenants should share the pain of the crisis.
Goldsmith acknowledged it’s hard to know how many of the 1.6 million people being supported by the wage subsidy will end up losing their jobs.
“It is very difficult to know the scale of the problem. Our sense is it’s very substantial and it’s certainly made more difficult by being ultra conservative on the lockdown.”
Goldsmith said that if Finance Minister, he wouldn’t rush in to buying stakes in larger companies (as the Government is considering doing). But he wouldn’t rule this out, saying “an element of pragmatism” is required in this environment.
Support for households justified after lockdown
In terms of financial support for households, Goldsmith was “open to a broader stimulus”, but “sceptical” about helicopter money - one of the many responses the Government is considering for after the lockdown.
“There will be a time where some sort of stimulus is justified, once we’re out of lockdown and people can actually get out and spend.”
Goldsmith said there would need to be a good explanation for giving cash payments to people who haven’t had to take pay cuts and are relatively economically unscathed by the downturn.
He conceded the Government’s move to increase benefit levels by about $25 a week from April 1 was “justifiable at the time”, even though he thought it was disingenuous for it to make the permanent change under the guise of this being a response to COVID-19.
Goldsmith said any additional increases should only be temporary, noting “substantially higher” benefits would remove the incentive for people to get back into work.