Weekend Herald

Robert­son plays the big dog in the yard

Fi­nance Min­is­ter makes it clear who’ll be in charge in fu­ture

- Fran O’Sul­li­van UK News · Politics · Elections · Grant Robertson · Arbeidersparty · Auckland Region · James Shaw · New Zealand · Jacinda Ardern · Winston Peters · Singapore · Green Party of the United States · New Zealand National Party · New Zealand First · Tracey Martin

Grant Robert­son is joy­fully play­ing the “big­gest dog in the yard” to scare off minor par­ties from try­ing to pull Labour’s tail in any post- elec­tion coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tion.

In mul­ti­ple fo­rums — in­clud­ing at an Auck­land Busi­ness Cham­ber break­fast yes­ter­day morn­ing — the Fi­nance Min­is­ter has been spray­ing his patch. He again un­der­lined that Labour will not im­ple­ment a wealth tax in the next par­lia­men­tary term “if we are in gov­ern­ment”.

The Green Party has tried to make wealth taxes a bot­tom line for coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions with Labour.

Robert­son does openly ac­knowl­edge that Greens co- leader James Shaw has also made a wealth tax a “top pri­or­ity”. This dis­tinc­tion is not sim­ply se­man­tic. It pro­vides plenty of wrig­gle room for both par­ties to co­a­lesce in a post- elec­tion sce­nario with­out Shaw los­ing face.

Or not, if the smaller party chooses to dig in.

In a coun­try where ac­quir­ing un­taxed wealth through prop­erty in­vest­ment is a na­tional pas­time, Robert­son knows he will lose some of the mid­dle New Zealand vote if Ki­wis be­lieve he will trade the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Greens’ wealth tax for power.

Un­der Labour’s poli­cies, the bet­ter off will be hit with a per­sonal tax hike to 39c in the dol­lar for those earn­ing in­comes over $ 180,000. But that only hits 2 per cent of tax­pay­ers.

On their cur­rent poll show­ings of 5 to 6 per cent, the Greens will be lucky to make it back to Par­lia­ment. They are cap­tive to Labour whether they like it or not.

At this stage it ap­pears in­creas­ingly un­likely that the Na­tional Party will get to form a Gov­ern­ment af­ter the elec­tion.

The party is pay­ing a hefty price for its dis­unity. It has a pe­riod of soulsearch­ing ahead and needs to re­build.

So, when it comes to New Zealand

First — still rating around 2 per cent in the lat­est polls — even if it gets over 5 per cent of votes at the elec­tion it will not have the clout it had in 2017.

Robert­son and Jacinda Ardern were com­pre­hen­sively out­played by New Zealand First’s ne­go­tia­tors af­ter the 2017 elec­tion.

Not only did NZ First ex­tract key eco­nomic poli­cies as part of its coali­tion deal. But their MPs also got to pre­side over some of the most pow­er­ful Cabi­net port­fo­lios like For­eign Af­fairs, State- Owned En­ter­prises, De­fence, Re­gional De­vel­op­ment and In­fras­truc­ture.

This was ( in part) down to the fact that the ex­pe­ri­enced and wily NZ First leader Win­ston Peters was able to ex­tract con­ces­sions from Labour that Na­tional would not coun­te­nance.

As the able Cabi­net min­is­ter Tracey Martin has openly let on, Labour was so in­ex­pe­ri­enced that when it came to sign­ing their agree­ment to NZ First’s pol­icy wins,

they over­looked the need to get their minor coali­tion part­ner’s sig­noff on their key poli­cies in re­turn.

Realpoli­tik dic­tated that Labour needed NZ First to be­come Gov­ern­ment in 2017.

The up­shot was that NZ First got to play the role of “hand­brake” on their coali­tion part­ner. That’s a fac­tor that Peters is us­ing dur­ing the cur­rent elec­tion cam­paign when he pro­motes his party as be­ing the only one to of­fer “in­sur­ance” against the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a so­cial­ist- style agenda af­ter the Oc­to­ber 17 elec­tion.

It’s a long way from the time when

Peters and Ardern ap­peared to be op­er­at­ing a co- prime min­is­ter­ship in all but name.

By Septem­ber 2018, Peters was openly demon­strat­ing that he was pre­pared to go against Ardern if she an­nounced poli­cies that were not in the Speech from the Throne or in the coali­tion or sup­port agree­ments Labour signed fol­low­ing the 2017 elec­tion.

Labour will not make that mis­take again.

Peters has ex­erted con­sid­er­able power in the coali­tion and has not been afraid to use it.

The prob­lem is that the party is now known for what it is against, rather than what it is for.

Robert­son and Ardern clearly have mo­men­tum.

So what can we ex­pect if Robert­son is again Fi­nance Min­is­ter af­ter next Satur­day?

Yes­ter­day, he out­lined that in­fras­truc­ture will be a clear pri­or­ity.

If NZ First is not re­turned, he could opt to take on the port­fo­lio him­self as was the case with pre­ced­ing Na­tional fi­nance min­is­ters. There are big plans — some $ 40 bil­lion in­vested in projects over 10 years and 8000 houses to be built as part of a pub­lic hous­ing pro­gramme.

Fac­ing up to the sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenge is the sec­ond arm of Robert­son’s plans.

This could see the de­vel­op­ment of a green hy­dro­gen ex­port in­dus­try once New Zealand moves to 100 per cent re­new­able elec­tric­ity.

Mak­ing head­way with pro­duc­tiv­ity is the third arm.

Labour has taken a leaf out of the Sin­ga­pore Gov­ern­ment model, de­vel­op­ing in­dus­try trans­for­ma­tion plans in con­cert with Busi­nessNZ and the CTU. Al­ready, agritech is well un­der way.

This is not the sexy stuff that grabs head­lines.

But could form the bones of an eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion plan.

On their cur­rent poll show­ings of 5 to 6 per cent, the Greens will be lucky to make it back to Par­lia­ment. They are cap­tive to Labour whether they like it or not.

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 ?? Photo / Ja­son Ox­en­ham ?? James Shaw and Grant Robert­son ( pic­tured in 2017) have left them­selves plenty of wrig­gle room for any post- elec­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions.
Photo / Ja­son Ox­en­ham James Shaw and Grant Robert­son ( pic­tured in 2017) have left them­selves plenty of wrig­gle room for any post- elec­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions.

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