'All in good time,' Ardern says on tax policy as she sets out campaign focus on housing, health, education, environment, infrastructure and Maori affairs

By Alex Tarrant

“All in good time,” is the message from Jacinda Ardern on whether the Labour Party will contest the general election with a different tax policy to Andrew Little’s low-key stance.

Ardern wasn’t ruling anything out, but nor was she ruling anything in on that specific issue as she and deputy leader Kelvin Davis unveiled Labour’s new campaign slogan, “Let’s do this,” in Parliament on Friday.

Housing, health, education, key infrastructure, the environment and policies with a Maori focus will be central tenets of the campaign, she said. A ‘key infrastructure’ announcement is set for Sunday – set to include a promise of light rail to Auckland Airport – followed by an environment announcement Wednesday.

Another move not to be underestimated is that Ardern has also brought in Helen Clark’s former chief press secretary, Mike Munro, as a strategic advisor. Munro importantly will demand respect from the caucus and should in effect act as a de-facto head press officer and chief of staff, all in one.

Such a move was one of the recommendations Interest.co.nz wrote about on Monday regarding the need for caucus respect for the Labour Party leadership under whoever led the party. Another recommendation was for a more progressive tax policy – that looks like it is on the cards.

Turei won’t take Cabinet post

Labour’s announcement was set back an hour by potential coalition partner the Green Party, with the announcement by co-leader Metiria Turei that she would not seek a Cabinet position if the Greens were in government.

This follows from Turei earlier saying she had lied about the number of flatmates she had while receiving the domestic purposes benefit, and a report last night that she had registered to vote in an electorate she did not live in, in 1993 when she was 23 years old. You can watch that full press conference below. Turei said she would remain in Parliament and continue her work focussing on the underprivileged as co-leader of the Greens.

Ardern herself said afterwards that she would not have accepted Turei in a Labour-led Cabinet. Her office had notified this to the Greens earlier in the morning, Ardern said. Turei had made the right choice, she added. But Ardern did add that it was important for the issues Turei had raised to be discussed. Labour would be sticking within its Budget Responsibility Rules, Ardern said. This stipulates that government spending as a proportion of GDP needs to remain below 30% each year, and that net government debt will be returned to net 20% of GDP within five years of Labour taking office.

Tax policy “all in good time”

Back to tax. After setting out several campaign priorities, Ardern was inevitably asked about her position on changing Labour’s tax policy. Interest.co.nz wrote on Wednesday that a more progressive tax system is on the election campaign agenda.

However, it was wait-and-see mode, with Ardern playing questions from all corners of the room with a straight bat. Would she rule out raising the top tax rate?

“I’ve given an overview of the policy areas that we will be adding emphasis. There might be other areas that we touch on through the course of the campaign,” she said. “But I’ve already given an indication that housing, education and the environmental space, and of course on Maori issues, that’s where our emphasis will be.”

Could she give any indication on the direction of thinking on tax; should wealthier people on higher incomes pay more tax?

“People will be left in no doubt of our direction during this campaign. I don’t think anyone expects that after 72 hours I’ll come out with every single policy we’ll announce. But we will make sure that New Zealanders have good time to come to terms with the things that we’re proposing and the ideas that we’re putting out.”

Will Labour be changing the tax mix? “All in good time.” So, she won’t rule it out? “All in good time,” again. “I’ve demonstrated the areas where we will have emphasis. We will roll out our policies as we are ready,” Ardern said.

A change of tack: Would Labour stick with its fiscal plan? This was connected to the Budget Responsibility Rules but still were separate documents.

“We absolutely maintain that economic credibility is key in this election campaign. Whether we like it or not, people have a view on Labour and economic credibility. I would of course counter that we have a strong economic record,” Ardern said.

“But that is why we produced the Budget Responsibility Rules and that is why we’ll stick to them,” she added. “You…know (Labour finance spokesman) Grant Robertson and you know what parameters that he will hold me to. He’s already released the fiscal plan.”

“We have stuck to our parameters so far in this campaign and we’ll continue to do so. That includes a combination both of the fiscal plan and the Budget Responsibility Rules, but everything we announce we’ll make sure is fully costed and sticks within the parameters that we’ve set ourselves.”

Also, don’t forget Treasury’s pre-election fiscal update is due on 23 August, with the latest showing potential for an extra $1.5 billion in pocket money.

“So, there’s a number of different dynamics that will enter into this campaign.”