The politics of superannuation
The politics of superannuation
12 March 2002
For the first time, the representatives of five political parties were quizzed on the key elements of their retirement income policies in a single “head to head” session at a conference in Wellington last Friday. Five party representatives presented their superannuation wares and were then questioned by a panel to clarify individual aspects and to draw out both similarities and differences.
“I think even some of the participants were surprised at the similarities” said Michael Littlewood, one of the panel. “We wanted to reduce the point scoring that usually characterises debate on this difficult subject and to identify issues on which there seemed to be general agreement. I think we achieved that.”
Parties represented were Act (Rodney Hide), Greens (Rod Donald), National (Gerry Brownlee), NZ First (Winston Peters) and United (Peter Dunne). Both government parties declined the chance to attend but they were represented through a summary of their policies distributed to conference delegates.
The examining panel comprised Roger Kerr (NZ Business Round Table), Michael Littlewood and Linda McCulloch (AMP).
The two hour session produced a point by point comparison [that accompanies this release]. The outstanding features of the comparison are:
- There is no significant difference between all the parties on current policies that affect the benefits from publicly provided New Zealand Superannuation.
- The parties differ today only on the wisdom of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. National, Act and the Greens directly oppose it; NZ First gave it only qualified support and United thought that doing something was better than doing nothing. Only Labour and the Alliance seem to support it directly. Michael Littlewood said that we must assume the Alliance now supports the Fund because it voted to introduce it in 2001. However, the Alliance’s web site still reflects its 1999 election policy which was to oppose the Fund.
- There is less agreement about the future of New Zealand Superannuation, looking forward 20 years and more. “At least most of the parties seem to acknowledge the need for some sort of change,” said Michael Littlewood, “and that’s a fairly big step in the right direction. The only party that seems not to be contemplating any change to the benefits themselves is the Greens though it wants to get rid of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund,” he said.
- The parties are less clearly aligned on the role of private provision for retirement ¨C only NZ First supports compulsory private provision (directly linked with New Zealand Superannuation) and only Act directly opposes tax incentives. Support for the work of the Office of the Retirement Commissioner is patchy.
Michael Littlewood said that all parties (including Labour and the Alliance who weren’t represented at the conference session) had been given the chance, since the conference, to comment on the comparison before its release to make sure it fairly represented their positions on the various issues.
He said that focussing on the individual elements of the whole retirement income story should encourage the parties to think of the big picture and may encourage voters to ask why parties support particular parts of their policy. “Superannuation looks like a complicated issue,” Michael Littlewood said “but when you break it down into its individual elements, it becomes easier to have a sensible discussion.”
“I thought that Peter Dunne gave one of the more thoughtful contributions,” Michael Littlewood said. “He emphasised the need for consensus on the key issues going forward and not just amongst the politicians. He suggested that the community needed to be brought into that process. In that way, he acknowledged that politicians can’t provide all the answers; or that it’s too difficult now for any of the politicians, regardless of persuasion, to move ahead of the community on this issue”.
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