Finance debate features southerners

02:10, Aug 26 2014

The two southerners bidding for control of the country’s purse strings will briefly take centre stage today in the only formal finance debate of the election campaign trail.

Finance Minister Bill English and his Labour rival, David Parker, will square up at the Queenstown Memorial Centre this evening, with Russel Norman [Greens], Jamie Whyte [ACT] and Colin Craig [Conservatives] also in the debate.

English is technically on home ground, with Queenstown falling within his Clutha-Southland electorate which he won by 16,000 votes in 2011, although Parker is from Otago and lived in Queenstown for a period prior to being an MP.

The finance leaders’ debate has traditionally been something of a victory parade for English, but organisers are hoping for a more confrontational debate this year, with Jim Hopkins replaced as host by Duncan Garner, the former TV3 political editor who now works as a talkback host for RadioLive.

Although the pair have generally remained civil in their confrontations, English has spent recent weeks accusing Labour of ‘‘dumb spending’’, while Parker claims National has failed to make take tough decisions to rebalance the economy.

English said Labour’s alternative Budget shows the party is not focused on the quality of services, but rather wants to maintain spending, which would make it difficult to meet its spending targets.

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‘‘To live on $1 billion or $1.5 billion of new spending [annually], you just can’t do it the way they’re doing it, which is dumb spending,’’ English said.

Asked what he thought of his rival, English said Parker is ‘‘not in the class’’ of former Labour finance minister Michael Cullen and might struggle to roll with the punches in the way the debate requires.

‘‘He’s quite smart, but a bit stubborn, and a bit keen to prove his point. He’d have difficulty adapting to changing circumstances.’’

Parker said English was a ‘‘worthy representative’’ of a conservative government, but had failed to address the major challenges facing the economy.

‘‘Conservative parties trim the sails, but they don’t do anything, really, to reform the economy,’’ Parker said, claiming the two major projects for the National Government had been income tax cuts, which favoured the wealthy, and asset sales. 

He also pointed to the rising cost of superannuation, which Treasury forecasts will increase by $3.4b between 2013 and 2018.

‘‘This is where his double standard is exposed,’’ Parker said.

‘‘He refuses to address that. We’re willing to.’’

Stuff