Cross-party problems for Bill's super switch

9:59 pm on 6 March 2017

Power Play - Bill English has finally broken the deadlock on superannuation the National-led government faced under his predecessor John Key.

Mr Key made the politically expedient decision to completely rule out any change to entitlements while he was prime minister, all part of his 'inoculation' plan to clear the path of any political grenades while National was seeking office.

NZ PM Bill English.

Prime Minister Bill English - a former finance minister - has estimated the new policy will save $4 billion a year once fully in place in 2040. Photo: RNZ / Brad White

Just four years ago, National and Labour were arguing on opposite sides, with Labour saying the scheme was unsustainable, and Steven Joyce - now Finance Minister - saying the scheme was affordable and no changes needed to be made.

Mr English has wasted no time devising his own plan, with that work having only started since he took over as prime minister in December.

While he would not criticise Mr Key for his uncompromising stance, Mr English has obviously felt something needs to be done on superannuation even if it is not for another 20 years, when he and his government will be long gone.

But while other parties have been calling for some change, this satisfies no one.

The legislation that would enact the policy will be introduced early next year if National is re-elected and can negotiate enough support.

It could look to the Māori Party and ACT depending on the make-up of the next government, but New Zealand First and its leader, Winston Peters, could well be in the box seat.

Winston Peters. 6 December 2016.

Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mr Peters has had an uncompromising stance not to raise the age of entitlement, arguing there is no evidence superannuation is unaffordable and playing strongly to his brigade of grey-haired supporters.

That stance is in opposition to Treasury and the Retirement Commissioner, who have both warned the cost will blow out as the baby boomers start to retire.

ACT, and its 33-year-old leader David Seymour, are out batting for the millenials and younger Gen X, arguing the 20-year delay before the change looks after older New Zealanders while piling the cost onto younger generations.

Act Party leader David Seymour.

David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

That will resonate with those under 45 who have been laden with student loans and are increasingly losing hope of ever getting into the housing market.

That leaves the Labour Party, which refuses to do anything.

Labour leader Andrew Little changed the party's stance after the 2014 election campaign, saying the policy of raising the age over a period of time, with exemptions for the self-employed and those on very low incomes, had turned voters off.

As a former union leader, Mr Little's argument was based on the fact people in hard, physical jobs were often worn out by age 65, but as his own party's former policy recognised, special accommodation could be made for them.

Mr English's move will put pressure on Labour in particular to justify its 'status quo' stance.

Only last week Mr Little was backing Jacinda Ardern, his new deputy, to appeal to young Auckland voters - many of whom will feel like the losers in the generational divide.

Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little

Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Brad White

Mr English does not profess to this being a politically risky move just months out from a general election.

He might believe he has avoided the ire of those over 45, who tend to get out and vote, while relying on the low turnout of younger New Zealanders - who this policy will ultimately impact.

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