2 Aug 2023

National's Nicola Willis rejects Labour criticism of policy costings: 'It will add up'

5:44 am on 2 August 2023
Nicola Willis

National deputy Nicola Willis said she would not be lectured by a "desperate party" on economic management. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis has hit back at Labour's criticisms of her fiscal calculations, saying it was "very telling" that Finance Minister Grant Robertson never proceeded with plans for an independent policy costing service.

That was despite it being National - under Simon Bridges in 2019 - which blocked Labour's efforts to establish a new Officer of Parliament with that role.

Willis last year reversed the party's position and wrote to Robertson offering her support for a non-partisan body to provide expert advice to MPs on the costs of policy proposals and election commitments.

"[Robertson] had proposed that at previous elections," Willis said.

"I think it's very telling that he has chosen to make no progress whatsoever on that."

At the time Robertson said National's change-of-heart came too late for the unit to be funded and he reiterated that yesterday.

"We proposed it, National rejected it... they turned us down, the money ended up being spent on other things, and I think everyone would agree at the moment that money's very, very tight."

Robertson had wanted to set up the unit as an Officer of Parliament - independent from the executive and responsible to all MPs - to give opposition parties confidence their policies would be treated fairly and confidentially.

That model, however, requires political consensus across the House, including support from National.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters he was prepared to take another look at the proposal next term given National's shift in position.

"I've long thought it's a good idea... if there can be cross-party consensus on the value of a costings unit, I'd certainly be keen to explore that."

Willis said she too would introduce the unit if National was elected to government this year.

"It's the right thing to do."

The proposal's revival comes as Labour repeatedly attacks National's election costings, questioning how it will afford its promises without making major cuts to public services.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday Hipkins challenged the opposition party to prove it had the money to pay for its announcements.

"In July 2017, the Labour Party released a comprehensive fiscal plan ahead of the general election, and yet it's now August... nothing but crickets from the National Party."

Willis assured reporters that National would publish its full fiscal plan shortly.

"We are good fiscal managers and we will ensure that our fiscal plan adds up and that the commitments that we make are fully-funded.

"It will add up, and you will see that when we release it in full."

Willis said she would not be lectured by a "desperate party" on economic management.

"We believe that there is wasteful spending occurring across government, that more discipline can be applied, and that's why we will be able to deliver a much better fiscal plan for New Zealand."

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