National's plan to get NZ back in business

National has called for an immediate boost in support for smaller businesses, for every vaccinated person to be given a $100 voucher to spend tourism venues or eateries, as well as temporary tax cuts for workers and for small businesses in its Covid-19 economic plan.

Leader Judith Collins and finance spokesmen Andrew Bayly and Michael Woodhouse set out National's economic 'Back in Business' plan in Wellington this morning, as well as its re-opening targets of either 85-90 per cent vaccination rates or December 1.

The Delta outbreak has put the county's biggest city, Auckland, in alert level 4 lockdown and level 3 restrictions since mid-August this year.

Collins said the party would set a six-week deadline for ending lockdowns and believed a target of 85-90 per cent vaccinated is 'do-able' within that time.

"We would put an end to lockdowns, reopen our economy and reconnect to the world when we hit 85-90 per cent vaccination, along with district health board and age-based milestones, or on December 1, whichever comes earlier,

"The undeniable fact is that we cannot allow things to continue as they are. Our largest city has been in lockdown for almost 10 weeks and there's still no end in sight."

National's plan is a two-phase approach of short term and long term measures for businesses to operate safely once vaccination levels and border changes allowed it.

The short term measures are designed to ensure businesses, especially those most affected by the lockdowns in Auckland and the ongoing border closures, can survive until that post-Covid world arrives rather than falling at the final hurdle.

They include proposals for more generous wage subsidy and rental support, and giving businesses more legal certainty around mandating vaccinations in their workforces.

The plan would allow businesses with a fully vaccinated workforce to operate as normal at alert level 2, and to drop capacity constraints if only vaccinated customers were allowed in.

The policies also include temporary tax cuts for both small businesses and workers for the next two years.

National's plan would target those on lower incomes in particular, by moving the threshold for paying the 10.5 per cent income tax rate up from $14,000 to $17,000 - a step it says would give every worker a bit more cash in their pocket and put more money back into the economy.

National said a 24 month tax cut to 17.5 per cent for small businesses will help the 163,000 small businesses in New Zealand recover.

There are also some more targeted proposals for industries such as hospitality, including "dine and discover" vouchers worth $100 for every vaccinated adult to spend at a local eatery or tourism venue.

Finance spokesman Michael Woodhouse. Photo: ODT files
Finance spokesman Michael Woodhouse. Photo: ODT files

National has also proposed extending outdoor seating at bars and restaurants, and an insurance scheme for major events.

Long term measures include letting vaccinated people work, and visit places such as gyms and restaurants even at alert level 3, combined with rapid antigen tests twice a week for all staff.

It also proposes letting all fully vaccinated people cross regional lockdown boundaries once the 70-75 per cent vaccination milestone has been met, and removing all regional boundaries at the 85-90 per cent milestones.

Collins said businesses did not want pity and handouts, they just wanted a fair go.

"They want to be trusted to get on with the job of creating value, serving their customers, and employing others ... if we want those businesses to be around once we are through this pandemic, we need to act."

National said a 24 month tax cut to 17.5% for small businesses will help the 163,000 small businesses in New Zealand recover.

There are also some more targeted proposals for industries such as hospitality, including "dine and discover" vouchers worth $100 for every vaccinated adult to spend at a local eatery or tourism venue.

Finance spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the Government had cynically used the cover of Covid-19 as a "bottomless ATM with which to advance its political agenda".

He said it had spent at least $12 billion from the Covid-19 fund on things that could not by any measure be considered related to Covid-19, including three waters reforms, and cameras on fishing boats.

Meanwhile, with inflation rising rapidly, families were struggling, he said. "The waste simply has to stop."

Despite the costs outlined in its plan, National would recommit to a 15 to 25 per cent range for debt-to-GDP and be clear about when this would be achieved, he said.

National's plan:

Income tax cuts for workers: Move the threshold for the 10.5 per cent income tax rate from $14,000 to $17,000 for the next two years.

Short term tax cuts for small business: National is proposing a temporary 24 month tax cut for businesses with fewer than 19 employees, down to 17.5 per cent. Small businesses should also be given longer to meet their tax obligations.

The Wage Subsidy: National's proposal included continuing to pay the wage subsidy at Delta Level 2, and dropping the revenue loss criteria from 40 per cent to 30 per cent after a business had received it for 8 weeks.

After eight weeks, the payments should also increase from $600 to $800 for full-time employees, and from $359 to $480 for part time staff. National said the scheme was initially set up to help businesses through shorter periods of lockdown, and had not been adjusted to cater for the longer-term such as the current lockdowns in Auckland.

Business rental support: National has proposed the Government foot the bill for 50 per cent of a business' rent if that business could show a 40 per cent reduction in revenue under level 3 or 4. The landlord would have to offer a 25 per cent discount for the period the rental subsidy was paid - leaving the tenant to pay the remaining 25 per cent.

• Allow businesses under level 2 to operate normally if all staff are fully vaccinated

• Take any area at least 70 percent fully vaccinated with no Covid in the community to alert level 1 immediately

• Allow businesses to operate under level 2 with no capacity constraints provided all customers show proof of vaccination

• Allow all fully vaccinated staff to cross regional boundaries if they have a negative test, including rapid antigen tests

• Extend the wage subsidy to cover alert level 2

• Lower wage subsidy revenue loss threshold to 30 percent, and increase payments to $800 per full time or $480 per part-time employee

• Require wage subsidy payments

• Introduce a temporary 17.5 percent tax rate for small businesses

• Ensure businesses can legally require staff to be vaccinated

• Ensure businesses can legally require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry

• Cut taxes for workers by increasing the upper threshold for paying the 10.5 percent income tax from $14,000 to $17,000 for the next two years

• Allow fully vaccinated people with proof to attend work, events, gyms, restaurants or bars under level 3

• Provide rapid antigen tests free of charge to businesses, free of charge, for twice-weekly tests for all staff

• Distribute $100 vouchers for use at any hospitality, accommodation and tourism business to every fully vaccinated adult (expires after six months)

• Allow hospitality businesses to extend outdoor seating into public spaces where safe and practical, overriding council bylaws

• Establish a $50m insurance scheme for major events planning

• Introduce a two-year moratorium on any changes to regulations or legislation that adds to the cost of business

• A $150,000 immediate write-off on costs of new plant, equipment and related software to stimulate investment in more productive assets, and reinstate the asset write-off threshold at $5000

• Establish a small business mental health programme

• Abolish regional travel restrictions at 85-90 percent vaccination rate

Judith Collins says alll DHB areas would have to reach the vaccination rates under National's plan.
Judith Collins says alll DHB areas would have to reach the vaccination rates under National's plan.

'We need to get on'

Under National's plan, the country would reopen to the world at a vaccination rate of 85-90% of the eligible population - along with district health board and age-based milestones - or on 1 December, whichever came earlier.

At present, 67% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. Collins told RNZ this morning there was no reason why the target couldn't be reached.

"We need to get on. We've got now now around 80, close to 85, percent of people have had at least one vaccination. After a big effort to get people vaccinated. There's another six weeks to go. There's no reason why everyone can't get the rest."

All DHB areas would have to reach the vaccination rates under the plan, she said.

Regions such such as Taranaki, where it's being estimated it will take until the end of the year to reach 90 percent, would "just have to do it" by  December 1, she said.

"Everyone will have to just get in there and put some huge effort in".

Asked what would happen if the country reopened and Māori vaccination rates remained low, Collins said: "I think the Māori population will want to get itself vaccinated, and we've already seen an uptake with some of the efforts we've seen recently."

Collins said not only is business suffering, but tens of thousands of people including vulnerable communities, were missing out on other important medical treatment.

"Māori are also missing out on the assessments for things like cancer, heart disease, and everything else, and we do not believe that we should have Māori being targeted in terms of being blamed for the lockdown continuing."

Covid-19 modeller professor Michael Plank from Te Pūnaha Matatini said a fixed date for ending restrictions was not a good idea.

"I think we need to be responsive to what's happening in terms of the outbreak," he told RNZ's Morning Report programme.

"We need to be guided by the number of people that we've got vaccinated, and the epidemiology of the outbreak and the number of cases, the load on the healthcare system.

"They will change over time, so we need to be able to respond to that."

- NZ Herald and RNZ 

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