New Zealand opposition pledges big childcare spend-up
New Zealand's opposition has pledged to cut government spending on consultants to fund a quarter-billion dollar childcare policy as it refines its pitch to voters ahead of the election.
Opposition Leader Chris Luxon used a set-play speech, his state of the nation address, to announce a childcare rebate to low and middle-income families.
After four weeks focused on Cyclone Gabrielle, the policy is a reminder cost of living is the central issue in the minds of political parties ahead of the October 14 election.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has pledged to re-orient Labour towards "bread and butter" issues after taking over from Jacinda Ardern five weeks ago.
However, the National party's new "FamilyBoost" policy steals a march on the government, offering cash rebates to some 80 per cent of New Zealand families with children under five in paid care.
The policy is a marked departure for National under Mr Luxon.
Prior to Sunday, the centre-right's signature policy was tax income relief for all New Zealanders, which disproportionately benefited higher earners and had been attacked as inflationary.
FamilyBoost however will target lower and middle-income families and will be funded by a pledged $NZ400 million ($A369 million) annual reduction in government spending on consultants.
The funding base is a springboard for a political attack on Mr Hipkins' record as education and public service minister prior to becoming prime minister.
Under Mr Luxon, National has relentlessly drilled into government spending, which Labour has mostly defended as necessary to fund the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"(Mr Hipkins) spent $5 billion ($A4.6 billion) more, hired 1400 more bureaucrats at the ministry of education and then spent another $95 million ($A88 million) last year on consultants," Mr Luxon told Newstalk ZB on Monday.
"And yet we've got worse attendance, worse academic achievement.
"National is going to take some of Labour's wasteful spending which is achieving nothing and use it to create the FamilyBoost childcare tax rebate to make early childhood education more affordable."
FamilyBoost has a similar focus to Jacinda Ardern's last policy, unveiled at Labour's November conference before her shock exit in January.
That policy paid for about 10,000 childcare places for families earning less than $140,000 ($A129,000) a year at an annual cost to the government of about $NZ45 million ($A41 million).
National said its policy would help 130,000 families earning less than $180,000 ($A166,000) and cost $NZ249 million ($A230 million) a year.
Average wage-earners who spend $NZ300 ($A277) per week on childcare will receive $NZ75 ($A69) back under FamilyBoost.