New Zealand’s election campaign has entered the final 48 hours, with all focus – surprisingly – centred on a Greens policy.
Jacinda Ardern is all but certain to remain prime minister after the October 17 poll, with sky-high personal and party support for Labour evident in every poll taken since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The key question seems to be whether Labour will earn enough support to govern alone – which would be a first in the last 25 years – or will need the support of governing partners, such as the Greens.
The Greens have run a policy-rich campaign, unlike Labour, with most interest on a “wealth tax”.
The proposed tax would hit Kiwis with an individual wealth of more than $NZ1million – around six per cent of the population – asking them to pay one per cent of their wealth above that mark.
Opposition leader Judith Collins, whose National party is slumped in the polls and needs a turnaround, has screamed black and blue that Labour will adopt the policy – despite Labour’s denials.
“The wealth tax will be a point of pride for a Labour-Green Government desperate to raise revenues to pay off its spending,” Collins said.
“Having sprayed money at short term solutions to the economic crisis, their wealth tax will be a way to pay off the debts they have racked up.
“National believes there is a better way to get our economy back.”
Like many countries, New Zealand has engaged in massive stimulus spending to support citizens through the Covid-19 crisis, ruining its budgetary surplus.
Ardern’s response has been to propose a modest income tax hike on the top- earning two per cent.
The Labour leader has repeatedly said the wealth tax would be a non-starter, claiming to have ruled it out “around 50 times”.
National’s tactic will be familiar to Australian politics-watchers, who have seen Liberal parties at state and federal levels tie the Australian Labor Party to the Greens in the hope of winning over undecided moderate voters.
In New Zealand, Collins’ scare campaign has been given fuel by the Greens themselves, who insist it will be part of any government negotiations.
“We’re going to put it up for discussion … and we will continue to talk about why the wealth tax is important,” co-leader James Shaw said.
“Let’s have an election and let’s sit around the negotiating table and see what happens.”
What’s been lost in the debate is what the Greens want the wealth tax for; a universal national income and child benefit that they claim would end poverty.
Still, Ms Ardern insists it’s a non-starter.
“I’ve ruled it out because in our view … now is not the time for experimental tax policy,” she said.
The lack of Labour’s policy heft was evident in an Instagram post made by Ms Ardern on Thursday morning.
The “10 reasons to vote Labour” began with a promise for a new public holiday, and also included niceties like “A plan that puts people first” and “Keep Jacinda and keep New Zealand moving”.