Today's Budget demonstrated that the Labour-led government had no plan for leading the country out of the recession caused by the covid-19 pandemic, National Party leader Simon Bridges said today.

Speaking in Parliament immediately after Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivered his traditional Budget speech, Bridges said there was "much that was good in the Budget" such as the extension of the wage subsidy scheme to distressed businesses.

"But I'm disappointed because I don't see a plan for jobs and growth," he said, warning that the massive debt build-up required by the response to covid-19 risked being used on low-quality spending and leading inevitably to higher taxes.

"I see pet projects, whether rail or pest eradication," said Bridges, referring to a boost to rail funding reflecting the New Zealand First party's priorities and a $1.1 billion package of nature conservation, pest control and biosecurity projects. 

"They may add work but, added up, they mean colossal debt that doesn't create sustainable jobs for workers from small to large businesses," Bridges said in a speech that saw sustained applause from National Party MPs, many of whom were anxious that Bridges would again misjudge the occasion, as he did when the government announced the initial national lockdown in late March and the move to alert level 3 more than a fortnight ago. 

Both incidents sparked speculation about the strength of his grip on the leadership of the party, which has seen its poll ratings slide below 30 percent for the first time since the 2017 election, largely thanks to the popularity of the government's covid-19 crisis management.

Kindness gone next year

Bridges sought in his speech today to move the debate on from the health response to the quality of the government's economic response, calling the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund a "$50 billion slush fund", which was not a substitute for a "plan for jobs and growth."

"Spending money is the easy part but Grant Robertson doesn't even know how he would spend it all. It's not a plan. Much is unallocated, leaving over $20 billion to spray before the election," said Bridges. "Through poorly prioritised spending, the government risks making this economic disaster worse than it needed to be.

"We know Labour is instinctively in favour of increasing taxes and now it has its chance to do so. 

"Vote Labour, and you mark my words, this time next year kindness will be gone and, because of wasteful spending, you'll get more taxes and less money in your pocket. Higher taxes are the last thing New Zealanders need right now but they're a certainty under a Labour-led government."

He called on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to "trust everyday New Zealanders," who were still subject to too much control from politicians and bureaucrats, even at alert level 2.

"It's relatively easy to go into lockdown," Bridges said in a speech citing National's successful economic management during the 2008-09 global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes, with superior economic credentials likely to be a core theme in National's election campaign.

"It's much harder to lead an economy back into recovery but the best thing you can do is make the way back as simple as possible. That takes an understanding of business and the private sector and a clear economic plan," he said. "I'm worried about this government's ability to get us out of this crisis. It's one thing to have a Labour government in the good times but not in a deep recession. We must not let mismanagement, mis-steps and missed opportunity continue."