PM Ardern appeals to business for partnership on transformative policy
by Pattrick Smellie
May 3 (BusinessDesk) - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appealed to the business community to help the government develop a "robust plan" for the economic and environmental policy shifts required to deal with climate change and the fast-changing nature of work.
In a pre-Budget speech to a Business New Zealand audience in Wellington, Ardern tackled head-on sagging business confidence caused in part by the new government's policy agenda, saying "we promised we would be a government of change".
"It is clear that a shift is needed. Change can require some adjustments, I know. It can bring uncertainty. But it is inescapable. We must adapt and change ... or be left behind."
Ardern dubbed the business community's tendency to lack confidence about Labour governments' economic management as "the elephant in the room", saying: "I know the perceptions we face, but I will always focus on improving New Zealand's reality with the goal that perception will then reflect that".
The International Monetary Fund had given a positive outlook for continued economic growth at around 3 percent a year, credit rating agencies had endorsed the fiscal outlook, and the government was serious about keeping to Budget Responsibility Rules that critics on both the left and right of the political spectrum have criticised in recent weeks as unnecessarily restrictive.
"We are in good shape," she said. "Surveys show that businesses are actually feeling pretty good about their own activity. I look forward to hearing the same level of confidence expressed about the economy as a whole.
"It’s important to see clearly. We do not want to view the world as worse or as better than it is, but to see things as they are.
"As business people, I’m sure you know that change can bring great opportunity. And I’m sure you’re also aware that during change it is important to always keep focus on what you want, so you are better able to seize the opportunity when it is presented."
Ardern said the government wanted to "partner with New Zealand businesses to bring about transformative change for the good of all New Zealanders", and to "future-proof" the economy.
"If we are to stay ahead of the curve, we need to develop a robust plan," she said. "To do that, we have to work together. We can’t do this alone."
In that spirit, she used the speech to announce the creation of a tri-partite Future of Work Forum, involving the government, Business New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions, with Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope and CTU president Richard Wagstaff working with Finance Minister Grant Robertson to lead the initiative.
She also indicated progress is occurring on creation of a Just Transitions unit in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to lead work on transition to a low carbon emissions economy, which has seen the government introduce legislation targeting zero net emissions by 2050, announce an end to offshore exploration for oil and gas deposits, and prioritise forest planting for carbon capture.
Looking ahead to the goverment's first Budget, on May 17, Ardern said there would be "significant investments" in improved public infrastructure and access to "critical core services", but sought to manage expectations of how much could be achieved immediately.
"One Budget cannot fix all the systemic issues," she said.