Bridges calls for a fresh policy start
By Richard Harman (author)
Simon Bridges had little or no choice. He had to give the Opposition Finance role to Amy Adams.
To have not done so; to have given it to Judith Collins or Jonathan Coleman, would have alienated the Adams supporters in the Caucus and opened up the cracks that appeared during the leadership contest into obvious divisions.
His decision is part of a plan to target what he considers to be the coalition’s weak spots but there is more to it than that.
Now Steven Joyce and Bill English have gone, he is also preparing the way for a fundamental review of all of National’s economic policies.
And that will be a key part of Adams' job.
She will be different.
For a start, she uses different language to describe how she sees the economy to that of her predecessor, Steven Joyce.
Adams has a broader view and sees the economy as an enabler for what a National Government would really want to do.
In a way, it is a view similar to that of Grant Robertson and his "Living Standards Framework" of economic goals, though Adams has obviously has different priorities.
“To my way of thinking there is some common ground (with Robertson) in saying that economic strength is critically important to deliver all of the things that are important to New Zealanders,” she told POLITIK.
“And that isn’t just what the numbers look like in the Treasury reports.
“It is about whether we feel we have opportunities; how we live in our communities; how we feel about the New Zealand that we are living in.
“But equally if you look at all the countries that do those things well, they are only possible when you have a strong economy.”
She is not ready to totally oppose Robertson’s Living Standards Framework.
“I’m reasonably comfortable with an economic discussion that thinks about and looks at how well as a country we are able to provide for those wider things that we care about.
“But I am completely unapologetic about the fact that to be focussing on those things without taking care of the strong economy that underpins it, that’s when you get into lovely sounding words with no ability to make it happen.”
For the new leader, these debates will come, but in the meantime, he wants to focus on attacking the Government pointing out how things as various as immigration cutbacks, employment law changes and proposed changes to taxation will slow the economy down.
“Ultimately they have been left a very strong legacy," he told POLITIK.
“But they can over time squander that and certainly over time they could take the top off that --- strong growth in jobs and so on.”
But he says that over time he wants National to do more than simply be an Opposition.
"We will want to set out our own positive vision for the economy with some policies underneath that.
“We will be thinking about the tax settings, about regional New Zealand and what we do for small business if it faces more burdens under this Government and I’m sure other areas besides.”
On the tax settings, both Bridges and Adams have now resorted to a formulaic response when asked about whether they will continue with the tax cuts proposals that National took into the last election.
“Philosophically I am for them inasmuch as they are the people's money; they've worked hard for it, and we should be giving it back where we ca,” he said.
“But we have to see where the economy is at and we have to ensure that we are doing a strong job in the social services as well before we countenance that.”
"I don't think Governments should take any more out of the pockets of New Zealanders than they absolutely need and any Government should ensure that it spends every single dollar it does take as effectively as possible.
Adams echoes that.
"But I also think it is Government's core job to provide good quality public services and infrastructure, and we have to ensure that is properly funded before we look at returning the money."
Reading between the lines of these two statements you get a glimpse into what has obviously been a much bigger debate within National, and around the last Cabinet table, than may have appeared from the outside.
It is becoming clear that there was not universal support for the last Budget's tax cuts; that there were concerns about the lack of spending on health and infrastructure and that it is those concerns that were behind the groundswell of a call for substantial change from the caucus.
Now Adams has to play a leading role in that change process.
And already Bridges has said there would be few "no go" areas as the caucus reviews economic policy, though he had already talked to Adams about superannuation and National's policy of starting to raise the age of eligibility in 20 years.
He suggested that would be a no-go area but it's early days yet.
He has obviously had an in-depth discussion with Adams, and he has talked to Judith Collins, but there are still other key members of the caucus that he has yet to talk to.
it is becoming clear that this National caucus is preparing for a substnatial policy overhaul.