ACT leader David Seymour has declared war on the public service with his promise to sack 15,000 of them.
This is probably four times more than National want given the boot under its promise to cut all budgets by 6.5 per cent.
But Seymour may have got a foretaste of the reception his proposal might get with a succession of determined hecklers at his campaign launch yesterday.
That provoked scuffles between media trying to cover the hecklers and ACT supporters armed with plastic signs.
However the detail of Seymour’s proposals is shrouded in as much fog as enveloped him when the curtain lifted on him at Auckland’s Civic Theatre yesterday for the launch.
He claimed there was $9 billion of “wasteful spending” which could be cut “without touching a single nurse.”
That could be done by taking public service numbers back to where they were in 2017.
You have to go back to 1931 and the Depression when Prime Minister George Forbes cut public servants’ salaries by 5 – 12 per cent to see a similar attack on the public service.
This table shows where almost all of the growth in the public service has occurred since 20-17.
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But when Seymour is pressed as to who would actually lose their jobs, he is not particularly forthcoming with any detail.
“The target is based on the number of people that we had in 2017,” he told media after his speech.
“The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has gone up three and a half thousand to about 5800 in just the last five years.
“If you look at the Ministry of Education, they go from 2500 to over 4000 in the last six years.
“So that gives you an idea of where some of those reductions might be.
“But equally, it’s not always true that every new hire or every new position is wrong.
“The needs of government do change over time. So I wouldn’t be too prescriptive by department at this point.”
National is also proposing to cut public service numbers. Their campaign on this has not been helped by leader Christopher Luxon getting his numbers wrong and persistently claiming prior to the election campaign that all of the 15,000 extra staff were in Wellington and by implication were simply pen-pushers.
In fact, only about half have been employed in Wellington.
Many of the departments that have big increases — like Corrections, Customs, Conservation and Primary Industries — have large “out of Wellington” staffs.
National’s finance spokesperson, Nicola Willis, hasn’t been even as specific as Seymour has been.
All she will say is that a National government would want all departmental budgets cut by 6.5 per cent by Christmas.
However at the ASB Great Economic Debate in Queenstown on Thursday night Willis singled three Crown agencies out for cuts.
“We will ask the Ministry of Pacific peoples alongside the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Social Development, to find 6.5% of savings,” she said.
“And as I look into this room, I see business owners, I see households who I tell you over the past couple of years have made more than 6.5% of savings.
“So why is it government departments are the only ones that haven’t been expected to tighten their belts?”
Three environmental groups, the Environmental Defence Society, Forest and Bird and the World Wildlife Fund, who ironically earlier this year had joined Willis at the National Party Blue Greens Forum were the first to attack her comments.
“We understand that the proposed reduction of 6.5% is on the already reduced quantum for next year of $710 million and would result in a $46 million cut, “ said Gary Taylor, the CEO of the Environmental Defence Society (EDS).
“This is defunding an agency that is already severely stretched to manage one-third of Aotearoa.”
The CVEO of Forest and Bird, Nicola Toki, said DoC’s budget was the same as the Christchurch City Council’s but unlike the Council it had to look after a third of New Zealand.
The three organizations are seeking the analysis that lies behind Willis’ proposal but it is now clear National will not respond to questions seeking detail about its policies.
It knows there is a massive mood for change within the electorate and that it has every chance of forming the next government.
Watching Labour leader Chris Hipkins over the weekend it was clear his party is now focusing on its base rather than trying to bring in new votes.
Hipkins got an enthusiastic welcome from a largely Pasifika crowd at the E Tu campaign launch on Saturday.
This was a crowd for whom things like the minimum wage, the living wage, fair pay agreements and simple things like rest breaks being increased from 10 to 15 minutes really matter.
Labour is putting every effort in to gretting the South Auckland vote out, hoping that it mkight do what it did in 2005 when it got the party over the line I na tight contest with National.
Last week Labour party volunmteers made 5000 phone calls in the South Auckland electorates.
After Hipkins speech attendees were conscripted itn more door knocking and stints on the phone bank.
He ended his speech with an exhortation to get to work.
“This election, I’m asking you to make sure that you vote but also to do more than that to make sure that you get out there and get everybody else voting as well because on the other side of politics they take a cynical view,” he said.
“Their view is that if the people in this hall and people in this community don’t get out to vote that increases the likelihood of them winning.
“I have the opposite view. I believe that if you all get out and vote and get everybody else around you out to vote, we will win.
“My message to you is really clear.
“Every door that you knock on; every phone call that you make is making a difference and is increasing the chances of us getting back into government and continuing the momentum that we have now. “
That was the message for the faithful but once they had gone off to go door knocking the message for the media, and middle New Zealand was different.
He accused the National Party of not being up front about what cuts it would make if it got into government.
Hipkins is on something of a roll here as Luxon refuses to concede that the party’s foreign buyer tax plans will not deliver the income he claims it will and that therefore his proposed tax cuts are unfunded.
Luxon’s major critics is now the former Reserve Bank Chief Economist, Michael Reddell who repeated his critique of the foreiogn buyer tax over the weekend.
“Luxon’s bluster and spin on the foreign tax issue in his Newshub interview this morning got me riled,” he tweeted.
And he posted on his blog: “I have no idea why Luxon and Willis will not release their working, or a detailed carefully written up description of them or why they won’t release Castalia to describe in detail what they did on this item.
“But it isn’t reassuring.
“Not, as I’ve said repeatedly, that it matters much at macroeconomically, but because it seems to say quite a lot about their likely approach to governing.
“Trust matters in politics and government, but trust is earned, and is reinforced by verification.
“It isn’t won, in functional polities, with a smile and some bluster and a refusal to provide any supporting detail, all while in interview after interview actively misrepresenting what they have done.”
So the closer the centre-right gets to power, the more pressure that will go on them to define how they will fund their tax cuts and who in the public service will lose their jobs.