The PM and her helpers have been saying that it is unhelpful for the Opposition to criticise the Government because we are in a crisis.
Considering that the Government’s response (up until Monday) has been criticised by hundreds of doctors, numerous public health professionals, the entire NZ Teaching Council and the former Chief Scientific Adviser to the PM, it seems ludicrous to suggest the only person in NZ not allowed to be critical is the Leader of the Opposition.
Claire Trevett makes the point:
Whenever somebody argues that there should be “unity” and no criticism from the media or the Opposition, it brings to mind the days after the Pike River Mine disaster.
Then there was a similar approach to the mine management during the press conferences: that it was not the time for criticism or hard questions, but for support. Peter Whittall was the good guy.
The ones asking hard questions in those press conferences were the Australian journalists. It transpired those journalists were right all along.
A good reminder.
A politician of Mr Bridges’ experience does not need to be told that in such times as now, the public gives short shrift to those who are constantly carping from the sidelines.
He has accordingly carefully targeted his criticism into matters of concern, most notably the number of tests being conducted by health authorities when faced with possible cases of coronavirus.
In Parliament last Wednesday, Mr Bridges bombarded the Prime Minister with questions about the amount of testing that had been done. Ms Ardern’s response was to ignore those questions. She instead accused Mr Bridges of being “borderline irresponsible”.
Her parting shot was to tell him that “this doesn’t have to be political”. Coming from someone who had presided over the release of an economic rescue package the day before which included a $25 increase in welfare benefits, that was a bit rich.
Sure, the consequent $2.8 billion cash injection over four years is in line with the Government’s fiscal pump-priming.
The unexpected handout bore all the hallmarks of an election-year Budget sweetener, however, with the additional purpose of salving the consciences of Labour and Green Party MPs.
For his part, Mr Bridges cited the increase in benefit rates as indicative of the “confused priorities” and the money should have been diverted to expand the payment of wage subsidies.
That is a valid argument — and one which is hardly “irresponsible”.
The Government announced a $12.1 billion economic package on Tuesday “to support New Zealanders and their jobs from the global impact of Covid-19”. This equates to around 4 per cent of New Zealand’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
The reality is, however, that only around half of that package can possibly be spent in the next two or three months. When we need it. That is around two per cent of GDP.
Yes with this Government ignore the slogan and look at the substance. It was a $6 billion package and far from being one of the largest in the world is one of the smallest.
The primary source of urgent assistance is the $5.1b wage subsidy scheme. This we support. But the $150,000 cap for businesses, which translates to 21 full time staff, means that around half or more of New Zealand’s workforce won’t be covered the scheme.
While it’s true that most businesses in New Zealand are small, the majority of workers currently work for the 5000 businesses that employ more than 50 people.
Just think of a large scale tourist bus operator with hundreds of employees. This business’s revenues will have collapsed. A subsidy capped at 21 employees will be of little assistance.
Our strong view is that the government’s immediate package of economic support – $6b at best – is far too light.
It is. Luckily the Government has now done what National suggested and removed the cap of $150,000.
We cannot possibly stop every job loss, nor avoid every business collapse. But we can, and we should, do more to save as many jobs as we can.
Remember this is an economic shock created by government responses to a virus. This is why successive governments have reduced debt when they could. This is what we’ve prepared for.
Of course Labour claimed National reducing debt was austerity and they constantly called for much more spending which would have never seen us back in surplus and paying debt off.