Clearing the decks

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2014

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Tracy Watkins

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OPINION: You know it is an election year when politicians start the year by clearing the decks of things they don't want to spend the rest of the year talking about.

Monday was Prime Minister John Key's turn when he dealt with the "will he, won't he" questions about NZ First.

Yesterday was Labour leader David Cunliffe's turn to decisively shed some of the baggage Labour had been carrying since the last election - its proposals to axe GST on fresh fruit and vegetables, and its equally ill-timed promise to make the first $500 of income tax free.

Ill-timed because the two policies combined added up to a $1.5 billion credibility gap for Labour at the time they were unveiled in 2011, hard on the heels of recession and the global financial crisis.

Cunliffe's predecessor, David Shearer, dropped plenty of hints that he was going to scrap both, sparking cries from Labour's opponents yesterday that the new leader's announcement was nothing more than a reheated u-turn.

But Cunliffe's announcement yesterday was important for Labour for two reasons - it was unambiguous, meaning he won't have to answer questions about it next week when he delivers his first crucial State of the Nation speech.

And it also reinforces the idea that Labour has given itself the fiscal head room for the more targeted policies that Mr Cunliffe hinted would be unveiled in that speech next week.

Cunliffe hinted strongly that his speech would likely include a payment to families with children - a plan which would build on Labour's key theme that inequality has risen under the Key government.

It will play well with Labour's core constituency. But it will also need to survive the credibility test with the wider electorate if Cunliffe wants to win first points in the opening salvoes of the election campaign.

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- Fairfax Media

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