North Taranaki Midweek

Spotlight is on Opposition leader



OPINION: For a job often said to be the worst in politics, being the leader of the Opposition does have the saving grace that there is no immediate risk of one’s policies being put to the test.

Last week, National would have found that something of a relief.

It not only back-tracked on whether tax thresholds should be raised in line with inflation (something it had strongly advocated all year) but also indicated it hadn’t entirely given up on the idea, before concluding the week by shelving its tax and spending plans, indefinite­ly.

Inevitably, the episode cast National Party leader Christophe­r Luxon in an unflatteri­ng light.

Repeatedly, some of Luxon’s statements have needed to be walked back and/or ‘‘clarified.’’

Such mis-steps could be attributed to Luxon’s lack of political experience. However, last week’s divisions and revisions came on matters that have been central to Luxon’s messaging ever since he became party leader.

For months, there has been widespread scepticism about whether a National government really could – as its leader has promised – pay off debt faster and deliver significan­t tax cuts, while also increasing government spending on health and education. Last week, those contradict­ions came to a head.

A month ago, Luxon had made an explicit commitment to maintain health spending at the rate of inflation, at least.

Soon afterwards, National deputy leader Nicola Willis was hedging on that point. ‘‘We haven’t determined that, exactly.’’

Under subsequent questionin­g, Luxon repeated his earlier commitment but – after several attempts at clarificat­ion within the same interview – he then conceded that indeed, National’s promise to index health funding to inflation might not always be kept.

Afterwards, Luxon issued another clarificat­ion, reassertin­g that National would keep health funding abreast of inflation.

As nursing advocates quickly pointed out, maintainin­g health funding at the rate of inflation is the least we should expect of any government, given our ageing population, the cost of modern drugs and the shortfalls in public health already exposed by the pandemic. Alas for National, matters then took a further turn for the worse.

Publicly, its Act partner argued that National’s plan for tax cuts without spending cuts would not only fail to fix the cost of living crisis but would actually make inflation worse. In response, National abruptly changed course.

Its website dropped the tax calculator that had enabled people to work out their tax situation under the proposals set out in Luxon’s State of the Union speech in March. Last week, Willis ‘‘explained’’ that those principles actually related only to the 2022 Budget. Another senior MP insisted that tax indexation remained the party’s position. By week’s end, National’s entire tax and spending plans had been parked pending a revamp, until further notice.

To some healthcare advocates, the episode revived fears that National might revert to the funding policies it pursued when last in government. During that period, health funding was increased annually, but (repeatedly) at below the inflation rate. In real terms, the increases were spending cuts in disguise.

The Covid pandemic has exposed the dangers of that approach. Last week though, National was finding it difficult to look like a coherent Opposition, let alone a credible government in waiting.

 ?? ?? Repeatedly, some of Christophe­r Luxon’s statements have needed to be walked back and/or ‘‘clarified’’.
Repeatedly, some of Christophe­r Luxon’s statements have needed to be walked back and/or ‘‘clarified’’.
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand