7 Nov 2015

Labour ditches old campaign policies

4:30 pm on 7 November 2015

The Labour Party has been clearing the decks of policies that proved to be unpopular and too complicated to explain at last year's general election.

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

At its annual conference in Palmerston North today, the party leadership reaffirmed Labour would not campaign on a capital gains tax in 2017 and the New Zealand power policy would also be dumped.

Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said while capital gains tax was off the table, affordable housing and an equitable tax system remained a key focus.

He said the party just needed to find another way of approaching it.

"That will take some time and you can only realistically do that when you are in government, when you have got access to the resources of Treasury and IRD. What we can say are our principles, and our principles are that we do not believe the tax system in New Zealand is fair enough yet."

New Zealand Power was a Labour/Greens policy to create a single buyer agency, in an effort to keep residential power prices under control.

That was now under review, Mr Robertson said.

"When we put up a proposal that is complex and looks quite bureaucratic, that causes a struggle, so we've got to get this right.

"We didn't do well at the election last year and we have to have a look at the policies that were part of that."

In his speech to the conference Mr Robertson said a Labour government would focus on reducing unemployment and lifting incomes, tackling child poverty, and looking at ways to keep people in jobs, as technology plays a much greater part in the workplace.

Change to age of super eligibility also out

A change to the age of eligibility for superannuation has also been taken off the table for the 2017 election.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said both the capital gains tax and superannuation policies proved unpopular with voters, and would not be part of the 2017 manifesto.

Party delegates have supported his desire to remove them from the party's policy platform at the conference this afternoon.

Mr Little said neither policy had lifted Labour's support in the past two elections.

"They haven't won us a great deal of traction, in fact our vote has gone down."

He said the capital gains tax policy was a blunt instrument.

"It didn't just capture the property speculator with a dozen or more properties, playing the system and getting the capital gain, it also got the hard working couple who, you know their sole source of saving was the property they had or the one or two properties they had which was their retirement saving.

"So it was too crude an approach.

"Age of eligibility - that sent a signal to all those who do physical work whether it's tradespeople, nurses, whatever, that they're going to have to work another couple of years when they're struggling to get to 65 right now.

"So we have a major issue, we've got to think about the cost of superannuation but we don't want to penalise people; that's why we've got to have a full reconsideration of it."

Abandon amateurism - Labour president

Labour Party president Nigel Haworth earlier gave the party membership a serve saying it needed to be more disciplined and not focus on trivial matters.

Mr Haworth took over as president after the departure of Moira Coatsworth last year.

He told the conference that much of the party culture at the electorate level was inward looking and too narrow and that the focus needed to be on defeating the National-led Government, not on trivial local matters.

Mr Haworth said for example a party leaflet might be agreed upon centrally, party branches may decide they do not like it so use an old one or even make their own.

"There are many other examples of this delightfully organic, federation-style behaviour.

"The point is simple, we can operate like a loose federation if we want to, but such behaviour weakens our campaign, weakens our brand and quite frankly makes us look amateur."

Mr Haworth said changing the culture of the party would be a major challenge over the next few years.

"An improved culture will lead to improved organisational performance, better member recruitment and retention and improved campaigning.

"Over the next couple of years I think we are going to be finding ourselves doing more work on this to make sure that the party is that inviting, positive and dynamic place that will back our progress into power."