30 Nov 2023

'Ashamed and embarrassed': Former Deputy PM Carmel Sepuloni reacts to government's 100-day agenda

10:27 am on 30 November 2023
Labour Party Deputy Leader Carmel Sepuloni and Labour Leader Chris Hipkins.

Labour Party Deputy Leader Carmel Sepuloni and Labour Leader Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The former deputy prime minister has labelled the new government's 100-day plan as "the most regressive policy agenda" she has ever seen.

The National-ACT-NZ First coalition on Wednesday unveiled 49 things it wanted to get done in the next few months, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon calling it "ambitious for New Zealand".

Much of the list was devoted to repealing legislation and scrapping initiatives enacted by the previous Labour and Labour-led governments.

"I don't think repealing means delivering more - in fact, it's going backwards," Labour deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni told First Up on Thursday.

"And from what I can see, their intention is actually to repeal a whole lot of legislation, not offering up anything better, in some instances taking us back to the status quo.

"This is actually the most regressive policy agenda I think we've ever seen. And as a New Zealander I'm quite ashamed and embarrassed that we have a government leading us down this track."

She was not sure some of the priorities for the new government - such as getting pseudoephedrine back on pharmacy shelves - were the biggest challenges facing the country requiring such haste.

"I mean, in the scheme of things, you know, the first 100 days this is what we're doing? Not sure if that's going to change the trajectory for New Zealand."

She noted it was National, under John Key, which banned over-the-counter pseudoephedrine in the first place, partly due to break-ins at pharmacies by illicit drugmakers. One of the Labour government initiatives the new government has scrapped is a reduction in the number of nicotine retailers, claiming this would make the few remaining retailers a target for ram raids.

The government is also scrapping plans to lower the amount of nicotine in cigarettes and what would have been a world-first gradual raising of the legal purchase age. The U-turn made headlines overseas in media outlets as big as The New York Times and The Guardian, and has been widely criticised by doctors.

"We're getting criticism internationally from lots of different countries and sources and health professionals," Sepuloni said. "We were leading the way with regards to our smokefree policy and now we're just throwing all of that away."

"We also need to remember that with the number of people that have to go and use the health system because of smoking-related illnesses, then not only are their lives and their health at risk, but actually that uses up really valuable resource of our health system, and so it has solid effects to everyone else.

"We all lose when policies like this are repealed and we take back the steps."

National Party housing spokesperson Chris Bishop (L) and Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni (R).

Chris Bishop and Carmel Sepuloni. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Finance Minister Nicola Willis has admitted part of the reason was to fund the party's planned tax cuts, including close to $1 billion in backdated tax relief for landlords.

National's Chris Bishop, now Leader of the House, defended the windfall for landlords, telling Morning Report they should be allowed to deduct interest as an expense, like any other business (people who live in their homes do not have this option).

"We're going back to that for landlords, and the government's carve-out of landlords and essentially imposing new taxes on them was unprincipled and it's also had the effect of driving up rents - very clear evidence of that."

Asked why the tax relief was being backdated to 1 April, considering how tight money is at present, Bishop said Willis "will be making further announcements about that".

Research earlier this year by the Housing Technical Working Group, a joint initiative by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Reserve Bank and the Treasury, found little evidence mortgage costs - including interest payments - had any effect on rents. Instead, rents are mostly driven by increasing wages and housing supply, the report said.

Tenancy Services data showed in the six years of the Labour and Labour-led governments, media rent rose 41 percent. In the six years before that, under National-led governments, the median rose 32 percent.

Item number 24 on the new government's priority list was to implement its 'Going for Housing Growth' policy to enable more homes to be built.

First things first

This week in Parliament will be taken up mostly by ceremonial duties, Bishop said, and they will be getting stuck in from next week.

"The first bill we're going to put through under urgency is the bill to bring the Reserve Bank back to a single focus on fighting inflation and price stability. I think that's very important. We picked that bill deliberately firstly."

The Reserve Bank currently has two mandates - price stability through controlling inflation, and creating economic "conditions that promote full employment".

That will be followed by a mini-Budget before Christmas.

"A lot of the things we're going to do straight away are things that are necessary that the last government rammed through that we disagree with that we want to immediately say and legislate to stop."

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