Outgoing Prime Minister Bill English has pledged to lead National through to the 2020 election, saying the Opposition has a more positive view about New Zealand’s future than the incoming Government.
English was re-elected unopposed as leader of the National Party at its caucus meeting on Tuesday afternoon, which took place as Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern was signing coalition deals with New Zealand First and the Greens.
Flanked by deputy leader Paula Bennett and the party’s whips, who were also re-elected, English said he was committed to leading National into opposition and through to the next election.
“We are the strongest opposition New Zealand’s Parliament has seen – we will go into the House with more seats than the Labour-New Zealand First coalition Government.”
He said he was concerned about how the new Government’s policies would affect the economic gains for Kiwis under the outgoing government.
“People have done a lot of work over the last 10 years to get to being one of the better performing economies in the developed world – the policies we’ve seen from the incoming government could fritter that away.”
English said his MPs would hold the Government to account on the high expectations it had created around rising incomes and “some of the more challenging environmental and social issues” – expectations he contrasted with the negative comments about New Zealand’s economic prospects made by Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister-designate Winston Peters.
“It’s interesting to note that as we head into the changeover of Government, the National opposition have a more positive view about New Zealand’s prospects than the incoming government, which has already set out to prepare people for a slower economy and at the same time promising higher incomes – I think they’ll find that a bit of a challenge.”
English said the coalition agreements with New Zealand First and the Greens needed to be seen in the context of Labour’s own policies, which were the most significant and appeared expensive.
Asked about plans to update the Reserve Bank Act and reform monetary policy, he said the Government needed to be clear about what changes it was considering.
“Part of the success of the New Zealand economy has been the stability of the institutions: of course you always want to be open to updating the arrangements around your economy, [but] if they don’t want to create uncertainty then they should get specific pretty quickly about what is meant by changes to the Reserve Bank Act.”
English said there was a “sober and positive” mood during the National caucus meeting: “Sober about the reality the Government is changing, but very positive about this unique situation we find ourselves in.
“Any party that’s won almost 45 per cent of the vote should feel pretty good about that achievement, nevertheless it wasn’t enough to get into government and these are a group of motivated people who now want to get on with the jof being a successful and positive opposition.”