Back in the day when we had useful Opposition, business leadership could be relied upon to think as if they had interests in common as business. This budget, their ability to think let alone lead has deserted them.
Baldly stated from Michael Barnett the Auckland Business Chamber of Commerce, “Compassion won. Business got nothing.”
He further commented that “… it is disappointing that the Budget gave no relief to tourism …”. Except that the government’s budget has supplied over $200 million to support, recover and re-set the tourism sector of the economy.
Mr Barnett also said that “If we are to increase prosperity it must be for all and be measured in increased productivity not just the size of our mortgages.” Mr Barnett’s egregiously lazy complaints over 2 decades of a sinecured tenure show only that he fails to understand that the basic elements of higher productivity are in the control of business, not government. This government is doing what it ought and that is: lifting the minimum and low wage floor. This is the guy that purports to represent business for one third of our economy.
One might also have expected that our apparent leader of the opposition David Seymour would as leader of Act be able to understand the specific role that this government sees itself fulfilling within the economy. Instead, he said “Since COVID19, we’ve watched as fruit rotted on the ground because there weren’t the workers to pick it.”
There’s really no need for this government to point out that the border shutdown is being effectively used to crush minimum wage and unprocessed agricultural exporters and exports in favour of higher wage and higher value exports. The fruit will rot until agribusiness learns to pay far higher wages with accommodation provided, or buy the robotic harvesters, or they will go out of business. They may not like it, but with an unemployment rate heading for 4% they are going to figure it out.
The most important part of our export economy, agriculture, had its main lobby the Federated Farmers claim that the reason the Minister of Finance was able to spend so much in the budget was because farmers were so resilient, competitive and fleet-footed that “farmers themselves had bankrolled the budget’s big spending”. Yup, that was the sum total of the contribution of the largest part of our export economy: to be such a dumbass that he didn’t understand the purpose of public debt in a public budget.
What used to be the most vociferous and most penetrating brains trust of the big end of town, the Business Roundtable in its NZ initiative guise, was simply not at home in 2021 when it was time to comment on the public sector response to the largest single economic crisis we have faced since the wool crash.
The only note they put out that mentioned the budget was a few lines on public sector productivity. None of which really matters to the salary average of most of New Zealand. Private sector productivity in New Zealand – the stuff that really drags New Zealand down in the medium term – got not a mention. Zip.
It’s getting pretty weird when even the bastion of property ownership and interests the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand could say nothing but good of this budget, noting for example $100 millin for healthy homes and $38 million to upgrade residential tenancy bond transactions.
Low paid workers and welfare beneficiaries were well represented in the mainstream media budget commentary by all the unions and welfare groups, and their commentary was reliable as well as overwhelmingly positive.
But business leadership showed themselves unable to think.
For those of working age, we have about 630,000 on welfare out of about four million employed: this budget simply didn’t speak to those on a decent wage or salary already. Which is fair enough this time around. But business leadership are currently unable to articulate that they are simply not going to get rich if they keep paying near minimum wages, and won’t be able to take on the more interesting bids or international market niches if they don’t attract qualified people who demand high salaries.
Ordinarily it would be the job of the party reliably representing business to set out what business needs to make us all richer, but that’s just not what National are capable of any more.
Business leadership had nothing to say on:
Those who represented the higher paid worker, those who represented business owners, and those who represented our largest exporters, appeared to have nothing to say, no capacity to lead, and have left the public sphere open to the continued dominance of Labour’s ideas and Labour’s outcome framework.
With business so unable to engage they may as well have left the field of discourse entirely, we are left all the poorer.