Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has enlisted the help of one of New Zealand’s biggest companies to try to restore the confidence of Kiwi businesses.
In a major speech to business leaders in Auckland on Tuesday morning, Ardern announced the formation of a Business Advisory Council.
Its chairman will be Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon.
The Council aims to “build a closer relationship between Government and business,” Ardern says.
It will provide “high-level free and frank advice to the Prime Minister on key economic issues and to create a vehicle to harness expertise from the private sector to inform the development of the Government’s economic policies.”
National Leader Simon Bridges has slammed the Prime Minister’s announcement as just another working group which won’t fix the problem.
This comes after a string of bad business confidence surveys; the most recent revealing firms’ optimism about the economy is at the lowest point since the Global Financial Crisis.
And it was business confidence that took centre stage in Ardern speech.
Previously when speaking to the business community, she has labelled the surveys as “the elephant in the room.”
But she says she has changed her mind.
“It is not the elephant in the room, it’s a flashing great neon sign with giant lights and fireworks going off behind it. We are all talking about it, and there is nothing wrong with that.”
She spoke of, what she calls, “the business confidence paradox.”
This meaning that despite the fact economic growth has been strong under Labour Governments, business confidence has been traditionally weaker than it has been during National’s time in power.
But in today’s speech, she attempted to distance the Government from that rhetoric.
“The overall sense I have is that it would be wrong to oversimplify this survey and just call it out as being about party politics, just as it would be wrong to ignore it.”
She says the main issues businesses have is not with confidence, but with certainty.
The launch of the Business Advisory Council is one way the Government had help provide more certainty.
The Council will report to the Prime Minister on opportunities it sees and will identify emerging challenges.
“It will bring new ideas to the table on how we can scale up New Zealand businesses and grow our export-led wealth.”
Bridges, however, is not convinced.
“This is a Government that believes it can talk its way out of anything – but instead of trying to shout over the conveyor belt of weak economic indicators they should be taking concrete steps to change their anti-growth policies.”
Another move in the Government’s charm offensive towards businesses
Today’s speech was by no means the first time Ardern has attempted to charm the business community.
Twice this year she has addressed business leaders and referred to business confidence as “the elephant in the room.”
She has spoken about getting businesses’ perceptions to match reality – citing New Zealand’s strong levels of economic growth, low unemployment and healthy Government books.
The Government has also made other moves to work with the business community.
In a pre-Budget speech, she launched the Tripartite Future Work Forum which brings together Government, business and unions to help “future proof the economy.”
And last month, Minister of Small Business Stuart Nash unveiled a Small Business Council which will help the Government develop a strategy to “drive improvement and innovation in the small business sector.”
“I have confidence that our relationship will thrive, that our agenda will successfully tackle the challenges we face and that our shared achievements for the country will leave a lasting legacy future generations will thank us for,” she said in her speech on Tuesday.
“Now let’s get on with it.”