Labour’s Finance Spokesman Grant Robertson is willing to call a truce in his battle with Bill English over the Government’s failure to deliver a fiscal surplus.

Mr Robertson has pestered Mr English over this failure both in the House in Question Time and at Select Committees.

But he told POLITIK last night that the rapidly slowing economy meant it was time for the Government to start bringing forward some infrastructure projects.

Mr Robertson also says we are getting close to the point where there needs to be a clamp down on immigration.

Interestingly he offered the other side to the Reserve Bank’s argument last week that immigration was helping keep inflation in check.

The Bank said that employment growth at 3% remained historically high “reflecting both high levels of net immigration and higher participation in the labour force.”

Mr Robertson said that the current level of immigration was “certainly depressing the level of wages”.

“There’s no doubt,” he said.

“The issue that we have, and the Canterbury rebuild showed this, is that if we don’t have the skilled staff then w have to bring them in.

“But now are very close to the point where we need to put a limit on immigration.”


Though at first glance this looks like a nod to New Zealand First, Labour is not anti-immigration.

The party’s 2014 immigration policy said that Labour would manage inward migration to reduce the peaks and troughs in net migration to take the pressure off an overheated housing market, while ensuring that the skilled labour required for economic growth was prioritised.

Mr Robertson says nothing has changed since that policy was published.

But of course what has changed is that he highlighted it on TVNZ’s “Q+A” yesterday.

He is convinced that New Zealand’s economic cycle is headed downwards fast.

And he believes the Government should bring forward some infrastructure investment such as Opotiki wharf or even Auckland’s Central Rail Loop to provide some stimulus.

“The signs are there that we are six months in to an eighteen months trough and this is a good time to be doing it.

“There are enough important infrastructure projects and good quality infrastructure projects that could be brought forward.

“Looking out to the major risk factors in the economy, China, the El Nino, we have definitely got another year if not 18 months of this (low growth).

“I f we were in Government we’d get those projects going so that in six or 12 months you’re not suddenly looking around for things to do.”

Mr Robertson said we can foresee what is going to happen next year.

“We can see what’s happening China, we can see that right now.

“And we should do something”.

Of course spending on infrastructure would threaten any future surpluses and Mr Robertson has pursued Mr English over his failure to post a surplus in the 2014 – 15 year.

“Clearly there comes a point where you see growth declining in the way that it is at the moment and you say well, actually the surplus target is no longer the most important thing.

“The most important thing is stimulating the economy to get some decent job growth.”

Mr Robertson’s comments this weekend indicate a new emphasis in Labour’s rhetoric.

He has moved from the strictly oppositional critique of Government policy into making some modest suggestions of alternative policy.

And he is anchoring that policy in jobs and wages — the two issues Labour’s core electorate want to hear him talking about.

Mr Robertson is presiding over Labour’s Policy Review process which outs over 100 policies up for review and reframing.

He has published some discussion papers on jobs and technology and it is becoming clear that Labour intends to focus on jobs and their quality as they move towards the election.

With unemployment forecast to rise over this period, they may find they have a receptive audience.