15 Mar 2024

Watch: Nicola Willis reveals economy has slipped further this year

2:23 pm on 15 March 2024

Finance Minister Nicola Willis is challenging businesses to play a greater role in rebuilding the economy while also revealing the books are in worse shape than thought.

During a speech to the Auckland Business Chamber on Friday, Willis said Treasury's growth forecasts in December "weren't flash".

"Since then, due to factors outside the government's control, Treasury has become even more pessimistic about the growth outlook."

It had warned her growth over the next few years was likely to be "significantly slower" than expected.

The government's Budget Policy Statement - due to be published in two weeks - would make the position clearer.

"The numbers haven't been finalised, but I know enough to say they won't make happy reading," Willis said.

The government had a three-fold solution: sticking with plans to lower personal income tax, driving more value from government spending and reducing waste, and "possibly most importantly", working harder to achieve "real economic growth".

Willis said the government could not achieve its goals without buy-in from the business sector.

"We want you at the table, leaning in, helping us dismantle the obstruction economy, taking risks, investing, hiring, innovating and making things happen."

The government didn't have all the answers "We want to hear your asks of us - how can we better work with you to drive growth?"

However, the country also needed businesses to step up "and play your part in helping New Zealand grow faster".

If business people wanted to talk about problems, they should also offer solutions, she said.

"My point is that if you've ever thought you could do more, then this is the time to do it. Your country needs you and our government is eager to work with you."

Areas businesses could play a part in were helping with financial literacy education, getting better results in schools and training institutions and leadership of government enterprises and entities, she said.

"Before you complain about their woeful underperformance, consider offering yourself up for a governance role where you can help make them better.

"We need top quality people on public sector boards. Taking on a government directorship is a public service; it's also a contribution to a better performing economy."

Willis said the country was "under-performing" due to its obstruction economy that had built up over decades.

If that was to change, the government would need ideas from workers and business owners who supported changing the status quo.

The government's focus would be on achieving "real, productive, sustainable growth".

It would be built on more products and services sold to more customers around the world; a better education and training system; welcoming talent and capital from around the world; cutting back on regulations and firing up the Māori economy.

"We're driving for better and we want you alongside us on the mission," Willis said.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Willis defended the plan to make offshore online casino operators pay gaming duty of 12 percent on betting revenue.

National before the election had predicted doing so would bring in about $179m a year over four years, but the IRD estimated it would only bring in $35m in its first year, rising by 5 percent a year.

"The online gambling tax will generate significant revenue for New Zealand," she said. "It will also ensure that online gambling providers who currently don't have to pay gambling tax do have to pay it.

"There's some uncertainty over the forecasts, we're hoping that we will maximise the revenue from this industry over the future."

She said the Budget would "add up just fine", delivering on commitments including income tax cuts. She was confident she could deliver those as well as a pay rise for police.

"We're going to do both. Police will get a pay rise, and we'll be ensuring that New Zealanders get tax reduction."

She said Cabinet had made a decision to "go and find more funding so that we can ensure a better offer is on the table".

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