Hoatu he tumanako ki a rātou

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, March 21st, 2024 - 20 comments
Categories: capital gains, covid-19, grant robertson, Maori Issues, parliamentary spending, politicans, tax - Tags:

Grant Robertson gave his valedictory speech last night. It was very well crafted and gave a real insight into his time in Parliament. No analysis is necessary because he summarised things up very well. But there are three areas where what he said needs repeating.

About the Covid period he elegantly recorded in a factual way what happened. He said this:

I remember vividly the day we shut the borders. We did it on a teleconference of Cabinet. I was in Jacinda’s electorate office with her. When the call ended, we looked at each other and recognised the enormity of what we had done. It felt very heavy. I tried to lighten the moment by noting that I knew when we went into coalition with New Zealand First our immigration policy might change, but I didn’t think it would go this far. Jacinda didn’t laugh.

As finance Minister, I was looking at some dire forecasts. Globally, financial markets were in freefall. We were told that bond markets could dry up, Treasury were forecasting 13.5 percent unemployment and mass business failures.

We were heading into unknown territory at every turn. Early on, we knew Air New Zealand was in trouble. The border closures here and overseas were cutting their revenue to next to nothing overnight. We pulled together the $900 million loan package in a very short few days.

When it came time to announce it, it coincided with the directive for Beehive staff to work from home. We scrambled out a media release, I hand-wrote some talking points, and headed down on my own to the theatrette to announce it. A small number of journalists were sitting there. After I had finished speaking, one of them said, “Why have you done this?” I said, “Because Air NZ would be insolvent in months if we didn’t.” Everyone just kind of nodded. As I walked out, Pattrick Smellie said to me, “On any other day, that would have been the biggest financial story of the year.” I agreed, as we stood in the Beehive foyer with staff coming by carrying screens and printers, wondering if they would ever be coming back.

As we got into lockdown, we settled into some routines. There were only seven staff actually working in the Beehive. I was completely alone on the seventh floor. Of course, no shops were open, and at the beginning we hadn’t been to the supermarket. Like some kind of latter-day Bruno Lawerence in the movie The Quiet Earth, I roamed the office in search of food, eventually stealing the bread from Kelvin Davis’s freezer. Things improved dramatically on the catering front when Leroy Taylor began his daily sausage roll – making.

The Government’s approach to the virus was to go hard and early. In the finance space, this translated to focusing on cash flow and confidence. The wage subsidy was the centrepiece of this support. We wanted a scheme that would keep people in their jobs and save businesses at the same time. We also knew that it needed to be available quickly and for long enough to give confidence. The work done by the Ministry of Social Development in particular to make this happen was positively heroic. At one point, they were processing 21 applications a minute.

In the 2020 election campaign, I remember being in Featherston one day, waiting outside the community centre for an announcement. A filthy ute came past, and my first thought was that Kieran McAnulty had arrived. But it wasn’t. It was a builder who had pulled over to talk to us. He walked over to me and shook my hand. He told the story of telling his employees, his various contracts they had were cancelled, that he would probably have to let them go. He and his wife sat down one night to look into the wage subsidy. They filled out the forms and were gobsmacked when the money was in their account the next day. Every single one of those staff had their job kept. In the end, across the lockdowns, the wage subsidy paid out $19 billion and protected more than 1.8 million jobs.

There were many other schemes that we developed fast: the Small Business Cashflow Loan Scheme, the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme, COVID-19 Income Relief Payment, the leave support payment. The combined result of all of this and the hard mahi of New Zealanders was that unemployment never went above 5.4 percent, and it actually fell to record lows and business failures were lower than in a normal year.

And you don’t need to take my word for it: New Zealand was one of only a handful of countries to have its credit rating upgraded during the pandemic by the international ratings agencies. It’s worth noting that those credit ratings have been maintained throughout our time in Government.

Now, these great results, of course, pale into insignificance in the face of the one statistic that matters: the number of lives saved. On that measure, New Zealand stood head and shoulders above others, with lower death rates than in normal years. Those statistics are real people. We know exactly who they were, if we look around the rest of the world. They were our grandparents, neighbours, kaumātua, and kuia. To coin a phrase: they are us. Savings those lives trumps any statistics or any hate on social media.

He clearly expressed a preference for a capital gains tax:

Alongside the things that I am proud of, there are of course things I could talk about that we did not get to do. I’m just going to talk about one, and my colleagues will not be surprised: New Zealand’s tax system is unfair and unbalanced. We are almost alone in the OECD in terms of not properly taxing assets and wealth in some form. Our current system entrenches inequality. It’s not my place any longer to say specifically what the answer is here, but I do know that the answers are out there. This is not a message for my party alone. The truth is that we need some political consensus about this to ensure we get it right and that it sticks.

But it is his comments about Te Ao Māori that really struck a chord with me. I would have loved to see Winston Peters’ and David Seymour’s faces as he said this:

One of the greatest joys of my life has been connecting more closely to Te Ao Māori, in large part through Alf, his whānau, and the mighty Ngati Porou iwi. They have welcomed me more than could ever be expected. No trip to Ruatōria is complete without being spotted at the Four Square, and the steady stream of visitors to wherever we are staying to share the unrivalled subtle and quiet East Coast wisdom. But one thing I have learnt from my contact with hapū and iwi across the motu: if Māori are doing well, if Māori are supported and enabled, if Māori are given their rangatiranga, we are all better off.

Te Tiriti has been dishonoured by Pākehā settlers, and it has been contentious. It has also been remarkable. It has given our country so much. It’s the framework through which we have sought to right wrongs, to give hope, to come together. It’s an imperfect partnership, but it is one that sets us apart from many other nations in giving place and voice to indigenous people. It sickens me when people use our journey as a nation, and the role and place of Māori, as a political punching bag.

My message to rangatahi and tamariki is that what we are seeing now is but a blip; a small, ugly footnote to the progress we have made, and that you will make in the future. Kia kaha.

He was an exceptional Minister of Finance during an unprecedented time. Go well Grant. And to the remaining Labour Party MPs you gotta give ’em hope.

20 comments on “Hoatu he tumanako ki a rātou ”

  1. James Simpson 1

    Something that has really saddened me this week in listening to Grant in his various speeches and interviews is his belief that being gay was an issue within the Labour Party and a was a factor in his leadership bids.

    I would understand being gay is a disqualification for National or NZ First leadership, but Labour? Really?

  2. Ad 2

    +1000

    May the Kingdom of Dunedin reign evermore.

  3. We will be worse off for one of the sanest, most sensible and – for the most part -very likeable Members of Parliament in my time.

    I was not a massive fan of the centrist incrementalism that he sometimes espoused, but I did not know what he was dealing with. The mana that he and Jacinda brought to their offices and their jobs was immense.

    Thank you Grant.

  4. Thank you Grant.

    We will miss your rational calm delivery, your humanity and humour.

    For me you were the stand out minister who was always trying to mitigate things with forward planning.

    You did give hope in our darkest times, and your statement "we have your backs" gave many of us the courage and security needed. Go well in your future.

  5. mac1 5

    The wage subsidy cost $19B and protected 1.8 million jobs. That is $10500 per job subsidy. Tax at 22% on that $4.2B.

    Unemployment was at or below 5.4%. Predicted was 13%. Paying an unemployment benefit to an extra 8% of the work force would have cost $4.2B at current rate of $337 per week.

    The tax payable by how many businesses that were saved from going bust I cannot calculate but if they were the businesses that employed the 1.8 million whose jobs were protected it must be again in the billions.

    Austerity would have ruined us as a country.

    Remember this expenditure was paid over more than one year so the total figures would have been bigger in what was recouped or saved than I have outlined above.

    My figures are rough and could be faulty. Had anyone seen actual official figures of what could have been without government intervention?

    Let alone the thousands of lives saved.

    I say we have a huge debt of gratitude to that 6 year Labour government. Grant Robertson was a major figure here. History will look very favourably upon that man and his role in our society's annals.

    • alwyn 5.1

      And his final gift to New Zealand. He might have been a nice guy BUT –

      He left us in a Recession.

      https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/gdp-is-new-zealand-in-recession-we-find-out-today/Y32IL4XXMBH6BC66XYWGNPHGPE/

      • Macro 5.1.1

        Which the current "govt" is hell bent on making worse.

        As part of its hundred-day action plan, the National Party initially pledged to “start reducing public sector expenditure by 6.5 percent on average” by cutting “back-office spending not critical to frontline services”.

        While the phrase “start reducing” was ambiguous, one estimate put likely losses at around 6,500 full-time jobs. ACT Party leader David Seymour was more forthright, declaring an “absolute top” figure of 15,000 public service jobs could be at risk.

        The final coalition government plan seems to have changed considerably, however, with the policy being to “start reducing public sector expenditure, including consultant and contractor expenditure”.

        While the scale is considerably less clear, now is the time to ask what the effects of these potentially drastic cuts might be. History and overseas experience suggest they will not necessarily lead to the outcomes the government intends, for a number of reasons.

        https://www.wgtn.ac.nz/news/2023/12/return-of-the-consultocracyhow-cutting-public-service-jobs-to-save-costs-usually-backfires

      • thinker 5.1.2

        So, Alwyn, where does Grant Robertson stand in accountability for the global recession as all countries come out of the pandemic?

        If you blame Robertson for other countries' recessions, there's an opera house in Sydney I'd like to sell you.

        If not, then do you imagine New Zealand should have been the only country in the developed world not to suffer financial fallout from the pandemic? Some of those governments are right wing, BTW. If you do, there's a pyramid in Egypt you might like to buy.

        Or, you might wonder what the country would have turned into, had Robertson decided to focus on inflation busting during a global financial crisis, cutting public spending while saying the economy's in bad shape and at the same time promising tax cuts for the rich because the country can afford it.

        I dare say, before too long, someone you know is going to lose their job and you can sleep at night knowing you had a part to play in making it happen. (I'm guessing you didn't vote left…)

      • Vivie 5.1.3

        Thank you Grant Robertson for your compassion and sincerity. Your clear, informative, often humorous communication skills will be missed.

        Alwyn: In this RNZ interview economist Shamubeel Eaqub advises that the Labour Government is not to blame for the recession, and that New Zealand's debt levels are low by international comparisons. He comments that investing in infrastructure programmes, rather than tax cuts, would be far more beneficial for NZ's economy. He said that the current Government's revenue projections are inaccurate. Tax cuts will require cutting funding in other areas, as we are witnessing. This will obviously have huge detrimental impacts on many NZers, and or course mostly on the vulnerable sectors of our society.

        https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018931201/more-pain-before-economy-picks-up-says-economist

        "A leading economist is predicting more pain before New Zealand's ailing economy bucks up next year.

        Data released on Thursday by Stats NZ showed that the economy has fallen back into recession, driven by weak consumer spending and wholesale trade.

        Gross domestic product – the broad measure of economic growth – fell 0.1 percent in the three months ended December.

        Shamubeel Eaquab (sic) says the decline began in September 2022 and won't be over until 2025.

        Eaquab spoke to Corin Dann"

    • Ad 5.2

      I agree with you as facts, and disagree as political economy.

      The perplexing thing from the support collapse and election result is New Zealanders appear to have a finely tuned sense of the state being granted only precisely as much power is required to control crisis, then when the crisis completes its cycle they expect the state to quickly retreat back to previous parameters.

      Robertson got very close to massive new worker protections through ACC, and close to a Capital Gains Tax although he got most of that done through the extension of the Bright Line Test for real estate.

      I am very glad he reached high, even if in the last year he did indeed bite off more than he could chew. That is, as he said, what Labour should do.

      • Phillip ure 5.2.1

        A stellar example of thank you and goodbye is winston churchill..

        He shepherded his country thru the war..

        ..and the english electorate thanked him by promptly voting him out of office..

        • Obtrectator 5.2.1.1

          …. because they knew damn well he would probably try to restore BAU, pre-war style – a prospect up with which they were determined not to put.

          • Phillip ure 5.2.1.1.1

            I bow to your superior knowledge on such matters..

            ..he was a tory..after all..

          • Belladonna 5.2.1.1.2

            But then re-elected him again in 1951….

            I think that his electoral defeat in 1946 has much more to do with the war-weariness and association of Churchill with that stressful period; rather than objection to his policies per-se.

  6. Validation and improved credit rating during covid.. sustained till now Thank you Grant.

    This lot are jumping off the austerity financial cliff.. They have parachutes we don't.

  7. SPC 7

    When they came into government in 2017, it was with a Robertson-Shaw promise to hold down debt to GDP to 20%.

    When he left the job he was an advocate for holding (net) debt at 30% GDP, because of the need for more infrastructure investment.

    Of course he had done some work on some form of wealth tax (as an alternative to CGT and estate tax or CGT and land tax as per IMF) to improve government revenues without impost on workers.

    This seems moderate, but look at this from 2022

    Something radical and no IMF blowback, nor from credit agencies.

    Because he did it in their language.

    The Government is setting a ceiling on government debt at 30% of GDP under the new measure, which translates to about 50% under the ‘old’ core Crown debt measure.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/128607232/how-far-has-grant-robertson-shifted-the-goal-posts-on-government-debt

  8. Darien Fenton 8

    In the first open leadership election, some people did indeed say "NZ is not ready for a gay PM", but they were also citing what they were hearing around them. I heard it from a few blue collar members of Labour affiliated unions and some Pasifika members ( I can’t tell you how many times I heard “God said Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”). Remember this was 10 years ago and I like to think we have all progressed now.
    Efeso struggled with it, but came to lead an understanding which was heroic in his faith.

    My favourite bit was about the cleaners. Grant helped make sure they are on Living Wage. He, other Labour and Green MPs did a midnight shift with the Parliamentary cleaners one night. We scrubbed the toilets and cleaned up the detritus of MPs, supervised by a superb cleaner who probably had a good laugh at how hopeless we were. I remember Grant telling me I was rubbish at emptying rubbish bins He was right, but that was a standout night for me and I share his pride on getting contract workers at parliament the Living Wage.

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