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PM's Presser: Tax Cuts & Election Dates

Prime Minister's Post Cabinet Press Conference 20 June 2005

Tax Cuts & Election Dates

By Kevin List

In This Edition:
Is The Media Driving Or Reflecting Public Opinion Regarding Tax Cuts?
Government Faces Attack From All Corners – Sep 17 Becomes (Even More) Likely Date For Election


Is The Media Driving Or Reflecting Public Opinion Regarding Tax Cuts?

The paper that proclaimed ‘Is That It?’ following Deputy Prime Minister Michel Cullen’s recent budget considers that the Government's biggest mistake is misreading the public's mood regarding tax cuts. Any reader skimming the Dominion-Post’s weekend editorial may have (mistakenly) surmised that the National Party’s chief media advisor Richard Long, had snuck back into Fairfax’s Wellington office and regained his position as the editor of Wellington’s finest daily newspaper.

As well as asserting that the Government had misread the publics’ mood regarding tax cuts the editorial writer last Saturday also borrowed liberally from opposition press releases as they explained (in their opinion) just why the public was fed up with not getting tax cuts.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen’s attempt to restore the situation, by pushing the line that there is no fat in the system is too little too late, and lacks credibility coming from a Government that has squandered public funds on, among other things, hip-hop tours, the wananga and the out-of-control extravagant “jobs machine”.

At yesterdays post-cabinet press conference the Prime Minister considered the issue of tax cuts was one of ‘priorities’. The Dominion-Post had commissioned an opinion poll looking at tax cuts for its Monday paper where 75% of respondents wanted a tax cut. However slightly less than two thirds of this particular group still wanted to push on with tax cuts, should it mean a cut to public spending.

Dr Cullen pointed this out to the Dominion Post’s reporter Tracy Watkins, in the article and the Prime Minister expanded on this point yesterday:

“I think if you were somewhat more descriptive and pointed out in the poll question that cuts in spending would inevitably hit health and education you would probably have a poll result that was even less favourable (to the tax cut side),” explained the Prime Minister when asked about the Dominion Post’s taxation poll before asking this presumably rhetorical question.

“Do people vote for a one-off injection of cash into their pockets knowing that this could cause considerable damage to the level of health and education spending that we have let alone to the police and our ability to finance roads, super-annuitants or do they vote for a longer term investment in New Zealand?”

The issue of trust and the broken promises of past administrations [namely the Bolger and Shipley National governments of the 1990s] and how she saw the election campaign being fought was then expanded on by the Prime Minister.

“I can’t look the electorate in the eye and say that significant across the board tax cuts can be afforded while we still maintain our spending on areas that are critical to New Zealanders. I remember the 1990s very well when spending in those areas was slashed. I remember the misery it caused – the division it caused – I think as the campaign progresses you will see the two kinds of futures starkly set out for New Zealanders.”

The Prime Minister then revisited memories of slashed spending under the Bolger and Shipley administrations and the protests that followed - such as the Hikoi of Hope before outlining a key list of achievements in employment, health and education namely;

  • 250,000 more jobs

  • Falling poverty levels

  • Tens of thousands more procedures in hospitals

  • 3000 more teachers
  • Following this roll call of achievements which the Prime Minister considered had been achieved by the Labour-Progressive Government she issued a word of warning, “The people that say they can afford them [tax cuts] I don’t believe are being upfront with the public.”

    Unsurprisingly the main target of the Prime Minister’s verbal admonition was the National Party.

    “There is hardly a week goes by when there is not another announcement by the National Party of another tax they are going to do away with and another area that they are going to spend on. All I can say is that it won’t only be health and education that will be cut – it will be everyone’s mortgages going up because the state is borrowing to cover its tax cuts,” she said.


    Government Faces Attack From All Corners – Sep 17 Becomes (Even More) Likely Date For Election

    The only political party, currently in the House, that hasn’t had a crack at the Government in recent days is the Government’s two-man coalition partner the Progressive Party (Jim Anderton and Matt Robson).

    Whilst the Green Party hasn’t been too overtly negative of the Government's performance in the last month - pretty much every other party, including the government’s supply and confidence partner United Future, has been stepping up to the plate and swinging wildly at the incumbent administration.

    The Prime Minister considered this concerted attack was partly to blame for a slow but steady slide in the polls. Labour’s support base of just over 40% was still a respectable showing according to the Prime Minister. It was however a figure that illustrated a need for a concerted effort by MPs and Ministers to get out and start selling the policies of the Government.

    And so it is looking increasingly likely that Labour MPs and Ministers will have till September 17 till sell their policies as the Prime Minister crossed off another of the dates predicted by political pundits for the 2005 general election as well as getting in sly dig at Winston Peters.

    “The date will be announced in due course”, replied the Prime Minister to the 5000th question this year about the election date, “but clearly some party's, having missed all the signs that there might be an early election last time, jumped the gun this time and predicted there’d be one at the end of July. I can safely assure you there won’t be.”

    Whilst the Government prepares to sell its policies - lobby groups, some with links to opposition political party’s - including the Employers and Manufacturers Association and the Kyoto Forestry Association have been organising campaigns to target the Government in regard to transport and forestry concerns. The Kyoto Forestry Association according to a recent press release is prepared to spend $2 million dollars on an anti-Government campaign targeted to do maximum damage in election year.

    A recent New Zealand Herald article on campaign spending pointed out that the Labour Party was likely to spend near the $2.38 million limit allowed under the Electoral Act defending its policies. National Party president Judy Kirk wouldn’t disclose what the National Party was likely to spend but told the Herald in the same article that National was on track to meet its funding goal.

    Whilst the National Party only spent one million dollars during their Bill English fronted 2002 election campaign - in 1999 the Jenny Shipley led National Party spent in excess of $2 million dollars in a failed bid for a fourth successive term in the Beehive.

    Given the terrible media coverage – especially in the print media – of the recent budget, to win the general election the Labour Party may need to do something a little more drastic than sending Ministers to meet and greet the public.

    As the editorial writer for the Dominion-Post’s weekend edition excitedly wrote at the end of their vitriolic attack on the Government, “it’s game on in election 2005.”


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