‘The 1970s have called and they want their policy back’: Nicola Willis lashes Labour economic management at party conference


“The 1970s have called and they want their policy back”. That was a message in a feisty Nicola Willis speech to kick-start the National Party conference and throw some economic red meat to the party faithful.

The party’s big annual conference kicked off at Te Pae Convention Centre in Christchurch on the banks of the Avon River, with Willis delivering a rousing speech to 700-odd people.

In a slickly produced start to the conference, Willis’s speech followed on from leader Christopher Luxon, who was introduced by his wife Amanda.

The still newish finance spokesperson used the speech, pickled with historical National Party references from former party leaders Adam Hamilton and Sidney Holland, to hew back to national’s economic first principles and home in on taxation, lashing Labour for what she says is big spending largesse and a centralising policies.

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National leader Christopher Luxon speaks to the party faithful in Christchurch.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

National leader Christopher Luxon speaks to the party faithful in Christchurch.

She continued to home in on the current inflationary squeeze being faced by households and businesses.

“Because as resilient and perseverant as we Kiwis are, and as great as this country of ours is, there’s no denying how tough things have become.”

“New Zealand is facing the most challenging economic conditions many of you will have experienced in your lifetime.”

It was an address also designed to fire up rank and file party members with Willis ridiculing of the Government’s $350 cost-of-living payment announced in the May Budget, which has had considerable roll-out difficulties this month.

“Its signature move, the ‘cost-of-living payment’ has been a spectacular failure, resulting in taxpayer dollars going to ex-pats in London, French backpackers and dead people.

“It’s so bad I think it’s earned itself a nickname: I’m going to call it KiwiSpray.”

“It’s like KiwiBuild only instead of being 99,000 houses short, it’s 800,000 payments short,” she joked, to low-key chuckles from party members.

The National Party conference is being held at Te Pae convention centre.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

The National Party conference is being held at Te Pae convention centre.

The deputy leader also used the opportunity to continue to turn up the criticism on Labour’s Covid response – often considered a strength of the Government – which the party has increasingly been doing since some consequences of expansionary fiscal and monetary policy have showed up in inflation in New Zealand and around the world over the past few months.

“New Zealand’s Covid-19 spend-up, relative to the size of our economy, was second to only one other country: the United States,” she said.

“Meanwhile, our Reserve Bank’s monetary response to Covid was the fifth largest in the world.”

“We simultaneously had our Finance Minister pumping the accelerator while our Reserve Bank reached for over-drive. No car can drive that fast without a moment of reckoning, and no economy can either.”

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The party’s finance spokesperson took aim at Labour’s economic policy in a speech at the National Party Conference on Saturday.

National has been continually pushing Labour on its boosts to Government spending. Willis used the speech to broaden out the narrative around a big spending Government that National have been developing since Christopher Luxon became leader last November.

She touched on National’s plans to index tax thresholds, which was re-confirmed this week after some Labour attacks, scrap the 39% top rate of tax, which Willis said is an envy tax opposed to the values of “the party of aspiration”.

Willis also took the chance to run through the laundry list of policies the party opposes and honing in on what National strategist believe is a key Labour weakness, the perception that it isn’t very good at running things.

The tight labour market and sluggish immigration service continues to be in National’s sights.

“National will fix our immigration service. We will take it from the bureaucratic Police Force its become and turn it into the Recruitment Agency New Zealand needs it to be.”

Even the mention of three waters reform, which National says it will repeal and replace, induced a boo from the audience. Labour’s Fair Pay Agreements will also be scrapped under National which drew cheers from the crowd.

“We will bring an end to Labour’s failed policies of high-taxing, big spending, big Government, with no accountability for failure and no focus on results.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring some aspiration back to New Zealand.”

The conference continues.

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