Nicola Willis says voters will have a clear choice at the next general election between an incumbent Labour Government that’s taking New Zealand “backwards” and a National Party that believes the country can do so much better.
National’s deputy leader spoke to the Times about issues including the economy, Covid-19, education, law and order and housing during a recent visit to east Auckland hosted by Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown.
Willis was previously her party’s housing spokesperson but took over the finance portfolio when she was appointed deputy leader by incoming leader and Botany MP Christopher Luxon.
She says come the 2023 general election the country will be looking for “stronger economic leadership” and she believes that’s what the National Party can and will deliver.
“There’s been a lot of high talk from the current Government and a lot of promises made and not delivered on.
“So having plans we can execute and can hold ourselves accountable for will be a big part of what National will offer as well.”
Willis says the country is facing a cost of living crisis that’s set to continue with Treasury forecasting inflation at very high levels into the future.
“When you’re at the supermarket or paying rent or a mortgage, or paying for petrol, it’s making life harder and for most people wages aren’t keeping up.
“National will certainly be providing the country at the next election with a choice for more disciplined spending, lower taxes and an approach that doesn’t add as many costs or as many bottlenecks in the economy.”
Willis says not enough houses were built to keep up with demand under successive governments.
The National Party is committed to ensuring more houses can be built, she says.
“What we’ve seen with this Labour Government is it’s sought to blame landlords for our housing issues and has imposed new landlord taxes.
“That’s really backfired by making rent a lot more expensive for tenants.
“We’ve now seen four times as many people on the state house waiting list and thousands of people in emergency hotel rooms, so that approach has failed.”
Willis says National would get rid of some of the red tape that makes it difficult to build houses and work with local governments on investing in infrastructure needed to support new housing.
It would also work alongside landlords to ensure rentals can be affordable and to a high standard, and work with community housing providers to ensure there are “choices available for lower income people and provide a rung on the ladder to home ownership”.
Willis says the National Party agreed with the Government’s decision to close the border when Covid first emerged overseas.
National also backed Government policy to financially support businesses to retain their staff during lockdowns as being “sensible”, she says.
“We aren’t without praise for the Government’s initial response but what we think crept in is a degree of complacency, for example with the vaccine rollout.
“We would have liked to have seen the vaccine rolled out a lot faster and a lot more efficiently.
“There’s a strong argument that says had more people been vaccinated, Auckland wouldn’t have had to endure the long second lockdown [in 2021] that it did with all of the impact that had on families and businesses.”
Willis says there are many wonderful teachers and schools across New Zealand, but “unfortunately we are falling backwards by a couple of measures”.
“The first [problem] is up to 40 per cent of children are now not attending school regularly.
“That’s a really high truancy rate and it’s very concerning.
“It’s a moral failure and it’s an economic crisis in the making.”
She says the second major challenge is New Zealand’s achievements in literacy and numeracy compared to other countries are slipping backwards and compared to this country’s own standards in previous years.
“We need to stop that decline, lift those standards up again, and National will do that.
“What we’ve identified is the need to work very closely with teachers and schools to track the progress individual students are making and to be clear about who’s slipping behind and intervening quickly.”
Willis says she has “enormous sympathy” for people impacted by the large number of ram-raid burglaries of retail businesses across Auckland in recent months.
“It’s so concerning and I feel for those who have had their business wrecked by a ram-raid, but also who live in fear of the next one.
“I’ve seen some shopkeepers camping in their shop overnight, so concerned are they to protect them. These are not the signs of a good and civilised society and, absolutely, this is something we need to get on top of.”
Willis says the Labour Government has sent a message that it’s “soft on crime” and that if people break the law they can get away with it.
“It’s vitally important we support our police, that we get in behind them and we make it clear we don’t tolerate disorder, we don’t tolerate law breaking and a National Government would certainly send that message.”