NZ's Ardern starts election year with big infrastructure spending pledge

By Praveen Menon WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern kicked off her reelection campaign on Wednesday with a NZ$12 billion (6 billion pounds) infrastructure pledge, an investment aimed at dousing criticism of her handling of a housing crisis. Ardern, whose Labour Party's popularity has dropped in recent months although she remains the favourite leader candidate, announced on Tuesday that the Pacific nation would go to the polls on Sept. 19.

Reuters January 29, 2020 07:07:25 IST
NZ's Ardern starts election year with big infrastructure spending pledge

NZs Ardern starts election year with big infrastructure spending pledge

By Praveen Menon

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern kicked off her reelection campaign on Wednesday with a NZ$12 billion (6 billion pounds) infrastructure pledge, an investment aimed at dousing criticism of her handling of a housing crisis.

Ardern, whose Labour Party's popularity has dropped in recent months although she remains the favourite leader candidate, announced on Tuesday that the Pacific nation would go to the polls on Sept. 19.

That has set up a lengthy election campaign against the backdrop of slowing economic growth, low business confidence, a failed state housing project and scandals within her coalition government.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in New Zealand -- modernising our infrastructure, preparing for climate change and help growing the economy," Ardern said in a statement announcing the infrastructure investment.

The plans include NZ$2.2 billion for new roads in the country's biggest city, Auckland, and NZ$1.1 billion for rail projects. Buses, walkways, bicycle lanes in major cities and healthcare facilities would also receive funding.

The spending, which the government first flagged in last month's economic and fiscal update, could help fire up an economy facing international and domestic headwinds.

Fiscal spending would lessen the need for the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) to ease policy at its meeting next month.

"These low rates – around 1.5% for ten years – can be locked in over the long term, making this programme sensible and affordable," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said, adding that net debt would remain low.

RBNZ Assistant Governor Christian Hawkesby said on Wednesday there were upside and downside risks as the bank considered whether to move on monetary policy.

Political pundits have predicted a close election contest as referenda, scheduled to run alongside the leadership poll, on legalising cannabis and euthanasia are expected to be distracting and divisive.

Ardern is hugely popular among liberals overseas thanks to her compassionate but decisive response to the Christchurch mass shooting, her focus on climate change action and multilateralism, and her ability to combine motherhood and leadership.

But some of her critics back home say her global image does not match up domestically, as issues of child poverty, affordable housing and inequality continue to bite.

Two October opinion polls showed support for her ruling coalition, formed with the right wing New Zealand First Party, at its lowest since 2017. Ardern's own popularity also waned, but she remains far ahead of her rivals.

Ardern has asked voters for a further term to "get the job done".

(Editing by Sandra Maler and Jane Wardell)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.