1 Oct 2020

Labour releases largely unchanged fiscal plan

5:54 pm on 1 October 2020

Labour's fiscal plan has little changes other than an already announced top income tax bracket change, saying it has set aside double what National would to deal with basic cost pressures.

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Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson announced the party's fiscal policy this morning, but shortly after the plan was released, Labour sent out a correction after it mislabelled an axis on a graph. Robertson says the error isn't embarrassing and insists his numbers add up.

He says the plan is balanced and will carefully manage finances while maintaining public services and responding to Covid-19.

"There is no costless decision here, and we are not prepared to return to the approach that the previous National government took which saw our hospitals and schools run down," Robertson said.

The plan estimates changes to income and digital services taxes would bring in about $2.6 billion over four years which could be used over and above what was set out in the pre-election fiscal and economic update.

It also details more than $4.3bn in new investments including $480m in "unannounced policy, minor commitments and contingencies".

"Taking this spending into account, this leaves more than $21bn for new spending commitments or cost pressure items across the four years. This will include our spending on ensuring that cost pressures are met for health and education and other areas of government expenditure," it says.

Robertson said Labour's plan would set aside enough funding to protect services like health and education.

"National's plan doesn't do this. They've left just $814 million next year, and $704 million the year after, to deal with basic cost pressures across the whole Budget. Labour's plan sets aside double that - and that's with election commitments being taken into account."

"Putting health services at risk during a global pandemic, or education at risk during an economic recovery as National's plan does, is the very definition of irresponsible fiscal management."

It also intends to retain $12.1bn in contingency spending for Covid-19 but would aim not to spend it as was assumed in the PREFU with the aim of reducing debt faster.

"Leaving $12.1 billion in the Covid Fund is the right thing to do. It means we are ready to counter the health and economic impacts of another global resurgence, and gives us the ability to support businesses and protect jobs if we need to move alert levels in New Zealand," Robertson said.

The plan also identifies five principles for fiscal management to guide the party on spending decisions. Labour said its plan had been independently appraised by Infometrics.

National responds: '$140bn mistake'

National's leader Judith Collins has consistently criticised Labour for having "no plan" for the economy.

In a statement, the party's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said Labour's fiscal plan contained a $140bn mistake.

"Labour's fiscal 'plan' is nothing more than a seven page pamphlet. You would think with so few numbers they would be able to get them all right. Instead, they've got their own debt number wrong by $140 billion," he said.

"Their pamphlet doesn't even mention two of its most expensive election promises, Light Rail and Pumped Hydro, with a combined price tag of at least $10 billion."

The error was a typo showing debt in dollar terms rather than as a percentage of GDP. Robertson's office sent out a corrected version within an hour.

Read Labour's fiscal plan: