Just as Australians are absorbing the lessons of Scott Morrison’s “miraculous” return from the electoral dead, New Zealanders are being told by a prominent Wellington economist Ganesh Nana he fears the Ardern government is about to back down from “meaningful economic reform”.
Yet across the Tasman it was the “ambitious” economic reforms proposed by Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten which delivered the crushing blow of losing what the pundits called the “unloseable” election.
Labour in NZ is probably congratulating itself that it has dropped a broad capital gains tax not just from its current programme but for the future.For it is clear many Australian voters rejected Shorten’s plan for a giant tax grab across the economic spectrum and allowed Scott Morrison to play mercilessly the line “the Bill you can’t afford”.
Labor underestimated, as one Australian pundit put it, the downside of
“… mucking around with the aspirations of middle Australia [through negative gearing and capital gains tax changes that stirred anxiety about falling house prices]. I think this would be the last time that the Labor Party goes anywhere near people’s homes.”
Shorten also proposed to remove tax credits on retirees’ investment income, itself a killer for Labor’s hopes in winning several crucial seats in Queensland.
Another Australian pundit summed it up:
“I think part of the problem was that the tax measures Labor was putting forward … were too much for the electorate to accept and digest in one go, which had made it easier for the Coalition to go relentlessly negative”.
If there were lessons for Labour in NZ from across the Tasman, there were as many for National. The first: uppermost in the minds of most electors as they enter the ballot box, “it’s the economy, stupid” as Bill Clinton memorably insisted.
Morrison, who had served as Federal Treasurer before succeeding Malcolm Turnbull as leader, impressed with his mastery of the economic detail, compared with Shorten, who had the deadweight of his trade union links to de-power his ability to match Morrison in the one-to-one debates. Can Simon Bridges learn from this?
Former Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger said:
“Scott Morrison’s genius was to focus heavily on the working middle class, as well as retirees. He appealed to aspirational families and voters. Shorten looked like the dead hand of tax and intuitively, people thought, ‘What evidence is there that this bloke has any idea how to grow the economic pie?’ “
This too could be a crucial issue in NZ’s next election. Labour in NZ is shifting its focus to “well-being”, some say, at the expense of economic growth.
But if the programmes to advance well-being are no better formulated and undertaken than KiwiBuild has been, then there is an enormous opportunity opening up for National. Throwing vast sums into policies like “affordable” homes, reducing drug addiction, domestic violence and sexual abuse, without the skills available in both the bureaucracy and the community to produce the intended results, is a high risk for any government.
So too with climate change. As the Australian campaign showed, grandiose ideas to counter global warming didn’t resonate with most voters, apart from the global warming fanatics. Shorten’s inability to give any costings for his climate change policies provided his opponent with easy victories in their face-to-face televised debates.
And Labor’s close association with the Greens, who campaigned on closing Australia’s coal mines (its largest export industry), proved disastrous in the regional mining electorates, particularly in Queensland.
National should draw the lesson here that it should be campaigning hard to counter the propaganda of climate change activists that the world faces extinction if NZ doesn’t shut down its dairy industry.
Where National in the past has taken for granted the dairying regions — places like the Waikato, Taranaki, Southland and Canterbury — as its own strongholds, it needs to ensure it has top-rated candidates campaigning hard to squeeze the party vote as high as possible.
National cannot afford the luxury of its own supporters splitting their votes between their own candidates and some other party.
Even more it should be strongly focussed on mining regions like Westland (for coal) and Taranaki (for gas ) — as the Australian Coalition parties did, particularly in Queensland, to persuade highly paid miners to desert their blue-collar origins and vote against Labor.
The Green Party, as Labour’s partner in NZ, is already showing how negative it can be to economic impacts with Eugenie Sage’s decision to ban Oceana Gold from acquiring territory for tailings from its Waihi mine, an action that could deprive hundreds of workers of worthwhile livelihoods.
Finally the polls: the Australian pundits offered a range of views to explain why the public polling organisations for the best of three years had the Liberal- National coalition trailing Labor. And even when the polls showed a narrow lead, there was nothing to suggest the quirky outcomes in places like Wentworth and Warringah, let alone those in Tasmania and Queensland.
But it does suggest Simon Bridges doesn’t have to pay much attention to why the public polls are rating him so poorly. He’ll do much better if he absorbs and applies the lessons from across the ditch.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.