5 Sep 2023

Political party leaders make pitches at business conference

9:00 pm on 5 September 2023
Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon

Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ

National leader Christopher Luxon has accused Labour of treating businesses like children, and has promised them under a National government there will be a change in the relationship.

Meanwhile, Chris Hipkins said he was, ironically for a Labour leader, one of the "greater fiscal conservatives" of the campaign, and said National's tax cuts plan would be bad for business.

Luxon and Hipkins were speaking to the Deloitte and Chapman Tripp Election Conference, hosted by BusinessNZ at Te Papa in Wellington on Tuesday.

The leaders of five parties addressed the crowd, with Winston Peters, James Shaw, and David Seymour being given 15 minutes, and Luxon and Hipkins 20.

Before the leaders' speeches, Deloitte chief executive Mike Horne unveiled the results of the Deloitte-Chapman Tripp Election Survey.

The survey was completed by 880 BusinessNZ members across a range of business sizes and industries.

An overwhelming 85 percent felt the government did not have a coordinated action plan to raise New Zealand's economic performance, up from 65 percent in 2020.

And 93 percent of respondents felt changes made by the government had increased the cost of business over the past three years.

Speaking to a crowd that overwhelmingly thought the government was to blame for its increased costs meant Luxon was in his element.

Luxon said he wanted to see a change in the relationship between government and businesses, which he called the "lifeblood" of New Zealand.

"My observation over the last six years, when I've sat in boardrooms across New Zealand is often the question 'What do we think the government will think'?" he said.

"And that's the wrong question. Your job is to build a kick-arse business... I want us to actually work together in an adult-to-adult way, not a parent-child way, which is what I've felt has been happening in New Zealand over the last six years."

Luxon said he wanted to see a change in the relationship between government and business.

"We'll do our job in government, but I need you to bring your creativity and your executional excellence to actually advance New Zealand, and to build better businesses that actually create more opportunity and more growth as a result."

Hipkins' speech leaned on his formula of addressing the challenges, highlighting causes for optimism, and attacking the opposition's tax cuts plan, and its potential legal snags.

"If we start taking the approach that says, 'Well, we can do things that are in breach of our international obligations on the basis that no one's actually going to really do anything about that', actually, that's going to have quite a significant impact on our standing internationally. And it will be bad for business," he said.

Hipkins said bringing inflation down was the number one way the government could help businesses, and argued tax cuts would make things worse, and for longer.

"Anybody who tries to tell you that you can inject billions of dollars of extra stimulus into the economy in the form of tax cuts, and that that won't have an impact on inflation probably needs to be more seriously questioned about that," he said.

"And that's one of the reasons why I'm going into this campaign, perhaps ironically given I'm the leader of the Labour Party, as well as the prime minister of New Zealand, as one of the greater fiscal conservatives in this campaign."

The three other party leaders spoke beforehand, with Winston Peters first up to bat.

He acknowledged his party would not have many supporters in the room, as New Zealand First were nationalists, not globalists.

Rather than talk about business, Peters delivered a traditional New Zealand First stump-speech, taking aim at Labour, National, Hipkins, Luxon, Judith Collins, Jenny Shipley, education standards, Auckland traffic, and people calling the country Aotearoa.

He did eventually talk about how New Zealand First could incentivise businesses.

"We've got to have high information technology boosts and incentivisation, alongside research and development incentivisation as well, even tax breaks to do that, like Singapore, like Taiwan, like smart economies do. And we're going to incentivise wealth creation. We can be that great country again, but only when we take issues and ideas that are practical and have worked somewhere else."

Greens co-leader James Shaw was up next, immediately beginning his speech with "tēnā koutou katoa, people of Aotearoa" to a laugh from the crowd. He then focused on sustainable infrastructure, innovation, and investment.

Shaw said the response to the climate crisis was the biggest opportunity in a generation to grow and develop the economy and upgrade infrastructure.

"We need to focus on the resilience of our infrastructure. We would argue, and we would say this, but only because it's true, that actually if we start to treat nature as infrastructure, there are solutions there that are often provided more efficiently and at lower cost than hard infrastructure as well. And I'm not making an argument against hard infrastructure, I'm just saying that we should be more creative."

He also pointed to the praise BlackRock had for New Zealand when it announced its $2 billion renewable energy fund.

"In their analysis, New Zealand is currently the most innovative country in the world, in terms of the energy transition. And for them that's worth investing in, not just because it provides a great return on investment for them and the funds that they're a part of, but because that thing gives them access to that IP, and the ability to transfer that to elsewhere in the world.

"In other words, it becomes an export opportunity for this country. To me, that is tremendously exciting."

ACT leader David Seymour, meanwhile, criticised the productivity of the public sector, including the increase of staff at the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

"I don't think anyone here says that it's got easier to do business," he said.

Seymour said the government needed to improve as a regulator

"We face a situation where New Zealanders spend more and more of their time in compliance activity, and less in productive activity. These are the things that are holding us back.

"And they have real impacts on our ability to solve the various problems that we face, whether they are adapting to climate change, reducing our emissions by using better technology, or making sure that we have the resources to care for an ageing population."

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