Stacey Kirk: Politics, not tax, the point of Simon Bridges attack on 'income bracket creep'

2019-01-30 05:33:15

OPINION: It's not about the money.

The amount in tax breaks that National Party leader Simon Bridges plans to leave in the pockets of Kiwi families is equivalent to what that party ridiculed former Labour Finance Minister Michael Cullen for, with his "chewing gum" tax package.

The hypocrisy of that shouldn't go unchecked, but this isn't the extent of National's tax plan.

This is just a warning shot and it's about the politics of the coming year, more than the money.

While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was telling her caucus that 2019 is the "year of delivery", it won't be lost on Labour that this is a battle to look up to the task of governing.

Labour needs to "deliver" this year, because a selection of its major working groups are returning their reports telling the Government what needs to be done in the tax system, mental health, industrial relations and other areas.

The working groups have been roundly criticised as a stall to develop policy that was never developed when those MPs were wiling away the years on Opposition benches.

Bridges is determined not to fall into the same trap.

The idea to link income tax brackets to inflation is neither new, nor a tax cut.

What Bridges is proposing is targeted at those Kiwis falling into the "rich" tax bracket at $70,000, merely because inflation has pushed their wage there, but living costs have invariably increased by more.

And the Government appears to have been caught off guard.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson decried the policy as too expensive, while at the same time officials were talking down the amount in Kiwis' pockets as minuscule.

However, the value in the policy for National will be two-fold.

Bridges, in Opposition, has come straight out of the blocks in 2019 with policy; clearly communicated, easy to understand, not groundbreaking, but not a stretch to implement.

He will be hoping that the simple act of unveiling costed policy, in a non-election year, will seem to be a contrast to Labour's time spent on the opposing benches.

It's set to be a key theme of National's strategy, which also includes the release of a series of high-level discussion documents for public consultation throughout the year, as though it's a well-resourced Government department.

And if Robertson's not careful, he could find himself arguing that New Zealanders earning $70k or more, are rich enough to afford a bit of tax creep.

As the Opposition seeks to increase its focus on the "rising cost of living", that's a large swathe of middle New Zealand that National is daring the Government to alienate.

In the early stages, it appears to have taken the bait.

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