By Jenée Tibshraeny
Consistency. It’s something we humans like. It helps us makes sense of the world and anticipate what’s coming, so we can plan accordingly.
Consistency is key to building a brand, which is of course central to getting people to vote for you if you’re a politician.
Yet an interview interest.co.nz did with National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith last week, highlighted more inconsistency than his pitch to bring confidence and stability would suggest.
Taking from, and then giving to, profitable businesses
Goldsmith critiqued the Government for not tightening the eligibility criteria of the wage subsidy, after the initial 12-week subsidy, to prevent undeserving businesses from getting it.
He couldn’t specify how he would make it more “robust” and “targeted”, other than to say National would look at how, and over what timeframe, a decline in revenue is measured.
Nonetheless, National is proposing to pay businesses $10,000 for every new fulltime employee they hire, up to 10 new employees, via its temporary JobStart programme.
So, it’s up in arms over businesses that suffered declines in revenue getting taxpayer support, but is proposing to pay businesses in strong enough positions to hire new staff - regardless of whether they’re supermarkets, SMEs or law firms.
Put to him that there was a time when National was even calling for the Government to give businesses cash payments, Goldsmith noted this was only when things were looking really grim during Level 4 lockdown.
He stressed JobStart was only “one part of an overall plan for job creation”.
“The real driver is going to be that private sector investment and confidence and stimulating the economy more broadly,” he said.
4% unemployment... without huge take-up of JobStart
Yet with the party pledging to create 50,000 jobs at a cost of $500 million when former leader, Todd Muller, launched the policy, its cost isn’t insignificant.
Put to Goldsmith that it was an expensive initiative, he downplayed it, saying it would only cost this much if it was an enormous success.
Yet National surely wants it to be an enormous success, as it’s also campaigning on reducing the unemployment rate to 4% by 2025.
National’s leader, Judith Collins, during a Newshub debate, said she would claw back wage subsidy payments from businesses that legitimately qualified for the payment, but didn’t need it.
Asked how National would do this, Goldsmith distanced himself from Collins’ comments, made off the cuff: “I think Judith Collins, during the debate, made that point. That would be a very last resort - trying to come up with a legislative, clear clawback.”
Goldsmith was supportive of the current system, which sees wage subsidy recipients published online, with the aim of this preventing businesses from not paying their staff or trying to game the system.
Asked what would trigger National to recoup payments, Goldsmith said there would have to be glaring examples of companies taking huge subsidies, when they'd been highly profitable for the same year. If they weren’t yielding to public pressure to return the funds, National would consider its options.
Goldsmith accepted National would erode “confidence” if it was to pass legislation enabling it to take back what had legally been received by businesses.
A symptom of changes of leadership, staff and direction
The inconsistency continues with National, which touts itself as being better than Labour with money, having made mistakes in its budget and in ads targeting the Greens’ wealth tax.
Creating policy to appeal to a broad-base, in an ever-changing pandemic environment, is always going to be challenging - especially when you’re an opposition party up against a popular prime minister who’s successfully led the country through a tumultuous year.
But, the inconsistency in policy speaks to the upheaval the party has been through in recent months with changes of leadership, staff and strategy.
While the symptoms of its disorganisation can be seen through these incongruent policies, they’ve also been visible on the campaign trail.
Collins found herself in a tight spot when National was outed for blatantly planting supporters on Ponsonby Road during a walk-about.
She copped flak for the way she went about using her Christian faith (which some of us only recently learnt about) to attract support.
And “Team National” didn’t look that cohesive when someone in the caucus leaked a group email from the party's local government spokesperson, Denise Lee, grumbling over Collins announcing a review of Auckland Council without consulting with her.
Labour - inconsistency between rhetoric and delivery
As for Labour, the issue isn’t about inconsistent messaging. It’s about inconsistency between what it says and what it does.
Its over-promising and under-delivering has been well canvased over the past three years.
Looking ahead, it's disingenuous for Labour’s finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson, to say house price growth is not part of his long-term plan to grow the economy, when the Reserve Bank openly acknowledges this is paramount to its plan.
Robertson has made it clear he doesn’t want to make systemic changes now that’ll risk creating instability and affect confidence.
He should come clean about the fact he isn't going to do anything drastic to counter the side-effects of low interest rates boosting asset prices and thus inequality.
The inconsistency between Labour saying it cares about things like child poverty, but not making bold moves to address a root cause of this - IE housing affordability, is almost worse than the inconsistency between National’s policies and politicking.
National may appear amateur, but it isn't trying to be all over the show. Labour, however, is choosing to do what it takes to hoard political capital and remain in power.
See this piece for an explainer on why this writer believes most political parties are too afraid to touch the behemoth that is the housing market.
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