New Zealand’s fiscal constraints

ZB Plus
28 November, 2023

The incoming government has been entrenched in drawn-out coalition negotiations.

Across the table from National Party leader Christopher Luxon sit the leaders of two minor parties, both basking in the now-fading glow of recent electoral successes, eagerly eyeing their slices of the economic pie. Unfortunately, this pie has seen better days. The crust is stale, and the filling is sparse.

Surprisingly, media coverage of these nearly-over negotiations has largely ignored the financial elephant in the room. Instead, it has favoured a narrative focussed on personality politics, relegating pragmatic analysis to the shadows.

Ignored in the endless stream about news of flights and missed texts is the reality of net core crown debt sitting at 39.5% of GDP and inflation still dancing above the Reserve Bank’s comfort zone.

Money, as ever, is the true puppeteer in this political theatre. In contrast to the comparatively lavish financial circumstances in which Ardern's negotiations took place in 2017, Luxon faces a stark reality. His coffers lack the cushion of a solid surplus. He doesn’t have a $3 billion bone to toss NZ First’s way.

The incoming government will face hard decisions to get the country back on track. During the election, National campaigned on promises of tax cuts while effectively committing to maintaining spending levels. This balancing act was to be stabilised by encouraging an influx of new foreign investment. However, the viability of their tax policy has been roundly criticised.

Across the table, Seymour’s ACT wants cuts to both tax and spending, while Winston's NZ First will doubtless be baying for increased regional infrastructure spending. The reality though, is that Luxon is trapped between campaign commitments and a struggling economy. He simply does not have much wriggle room.

The media’s focus in on personal animosities between Peters and Seymour is a diversion from a deeper, more nuanced reality. Both political players, despite their well-documented disdain for each other, are seasoned pragmatists. Suggesting that a personal vendetta could trump political gains is naïve.

It is not personal spats that prolonged these negotiations, but ideological tussles shaped by the nation’s economic situation. A tug-of-war likely unfolded between one minor party that has always favoured a state-interventionist approach and another whose raison d’etre is pushing for large cuts to state expenditure.

National finds itself caught in the middle. The foundations of its famous ‘broad church’ have been weakened by economic erosion and may now tremble under the strain.

To read the article on the ZB Plus website, click here.

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