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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, especially the proactive work we are undertaking in response to COVID-19, including border measures, requirements around self-isolation as part of our pandemic plan, and public health messaging. They are just some of the measures that we are undertaking to ensure New Zealanders are kept healthy and well.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she worried the Reserve Bank estimates GDP growth was just 1.6 percent in 2019, the lowest since 2011?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member will well know, looking globally at the moment, we are seeing estimates from the likes of the OECD and others around the likely impact of COVID-19 on the global economy, and, of course, the impact for New Zealand will be no different in that regard. The New Zealand economy, though, is well placed to weather what we are about to experience and what we are experiencing. For instance, we obviously have low debt—lower than what we inherited—our unemployment rates are low, and we have run Budget surpluses. We are ready for what is in front of us and that’s exactly what we’ve always prepared for.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why was GDP growth just 1.6 percent in 2019 when our terms of trade were at record highs and coronavirus hadn’t in any way affected the economy by that stage?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is raising estimates and I would rather talk about the facts. Of course, to date, New Zealand has, relative to other countries, fared very well. At 2.7 percent growth relative to some of those that we compare ourselves to—Australia, Japan, the UK—New Zealand has performed well. We are obviously moving into a different phase where there is going to be a period of global impact on the global economy and time will tell what that will look like in New Zealand. But as I said, we are well prepared for what is coming our way.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she dispute the Reserve Bank’s latest figure of 1.6 percent growth in the 2019 calendar year; and if she does, what’s the correct figure?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’d merely point out it’s an estimate.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that the decline in GDP growth to the lowest level since 2011 means New Zealand is not as resilient as we should be to manage the economic impact of coronavirus?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely reject that. In fact, I look to some of the statements that have been made in recent times about New Zealand’s current position, particularly as we look to weather the global storm of the impact of coronavirus. And as Cameron Bagrie said last week, the good news is New Zealand has good momentum into turbulence. You want good momentum into challenging times; it helps ride them out. And as I’ve said, we have been well placed: net debt at 19.5 percent. We inherited it at 22.9 percent. Unemployment at 4 percent; it was over 4 percent when we inherited this economy. And of course, we have run Budget surpluses, which also we’ve consistently said were for precisely these moments in time. We are well prepared and we are well placed.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister: if one is to use an estimate from one year by comparison with an actual report on a percentage from a prior year, what’s the conclusion likely to be from that sort of calculation?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Very likely—

SPEAKER: I’m struggling to find responsibility—

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —the wrong one.

SPEAKER: —but, OK

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept if New Zealand was growing at 3 to 4 percent a year as we were before she became Prime Minister, then the economy would be better positioned to handle the economic effect of coronavirus?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member is trying to assert that we would be in a better position under National, they don’t need to make an estimate; they just need to look at the facts. The facts were that debt was sitting at 22.9 percent, that unemployment was over 4 percent, that wage growth was lower than it is now, which has reached some of the highest levels we’ve seen in the last 10 years at 3.6 percent. No matter what measure you use, we are better placed now under this Government than we were under the last one. And that means we are well prepared to deal with what we are now heading into, which is a global impact from COVID-19. I would also want to reflect to this member that this is a time when New Zealand is about to run into a turbulent storm and it would be helpful, I think, for the member not to talk down New Zealand’s situation right now.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that New Zealand would be in a better position to manage coronavirus if the Government hadn’t plunged the books back into deficit within just two years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have run surpluses in the order of $13 billion. We are projected to run surpluses in the order of $12 billion. That is exactly why we are prepared to weather this storm we are now facing off the back of COVID-19. The facts for the economy speak for themselves and the economists are reflecting that we are well placed because of decisions made by this Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that if her Government hadn’t spent billions of taxpayers’ dollars on policies like fees-free, KiwiBuild, and Shane Jones’ fund, New Zealand would now have greater capacity to deliver for New Zealanders without racking up much more debt?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Debt is lower now under this Government than on his watch. The facts speak for themselves.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the case that neither GDP growth, the unemployed on the dole, or debt is in a better position now than under the last five years of the Key Government—in fact, much, much worse?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I stand by every statement I have made in this House. We are better placed now and New Zealanders are better off under this Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that if her Government hadn’t cancelled tax relief and piled on higher fuel taxes and landlord regulations, then New Zealand households would have much more money in their pockets to deal with the economic impact of coronavirus that’s on them now and coming hard?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, because under that Government, he would’ve given himself a tax cut; under ours, we gave low and middle income earners on average $75 a week. I totally reject his statement.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that if her Government hadn’t broken New Zealand’s infrastructure pipeline by delaying 12 major roading projects, then the construction sector would have more work in place now and the economy would be much more resilient to economic shocks like coronavirus?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am very pleased, as the Prime Minister for the Government of infrastructure, to respond to that question. Time and time again, we have demonstrated that that last Government sometimes invested nothing in capital infrastructure and capital for the health system—in one year, a mere $150 million. We have invested in roads with actual funding and transport projects with actual funding, as opposed to that Government, who announced ghost projects with press statements and not a cent behind them. We are the ones that brought in the Infrastructure Commission. We are the ones with the $12 billion infrastructure upgrade. We’re the ones that have lifted the confidence of the construction sector as a result.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Of the so-called 12 road projects mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, how much money had been set aside with respect to the road to Ōmokoroa or, for example, from Whangarei to Marsden Point or, for that matter, the 10 bridges?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: None.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can she name one single major transport project that will be started before the election?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Manawatū Gorge. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Darroch Ball: Own goal.

SPEAKER: Who said that? Stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Darroch Ball: I withdraw and apologise.

MIL OSI