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What does the election mean for the savings industry?

Thursday, November 25th 1999, 12:00AM

by Philip Macalister

Will a party's super policy influence the way you vote this election?

Have Your Say Now in the new SuperTalk poll

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Just two days out from the election one could be forgiven for thinking the choice is equivalent to deciding which New Zealand index fund do you buy? Is it one which tracks the top 10, the top 30 or the top 40?

Many people know they should have one of them, but picking which one is difficult because the differences appear subtle.

In many ways though there are significant differences in the philosophies of the two main parties. The differences go beyond the arcane debates around tax and the Employment Contracts Act to such things as whether the policies support individuals or the community. To whether there is a role for Government in society, or whether the corporate boardrooms have taken over the cabinet table. Whether the market rules, or whether the Government plays a role in business and the economy.

Our Supertalk.co.nz poll says superannuation policy is an area which will influence voting decisions.

At Good Returns we consider superannuation (and the general savings environment) to be one of the biggest issues facing this country - yet it's one which has received scant attention in the past nine years.

On its track record in this area (and most others) National doesn't deserve to win the election. Its performance has been dismal. The little victories have been drowned by the major disappointments such as the referendum, killing the Accord and unilaterally cutting the rate of NZ Superannuation.

These events undermine investor confidence. There is a view National isn't willing to tackle super. There is, a number of prominent people say, a belief that the ministers responsible in this area either don't want to know, or just don't understand the issues.

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the fact that National went into this election without a super policy. Rather its position is: "we've given this issue to a another taskforce to solve. They'll give us a solution in 12 months time."

What happens if there isn't a clear plan?

Labour on the other has a detailed policy which includes shifting NZ Super to a partially funded scheme. Whether this is good or bad is a debatable point. The problem is that there hasn't been a debate. Hopefully if Labour win power the idea will be subject to close scrutiny. While the Alliance is considered by business people to generally be a risk, at least they have made it clear that supporting the Labour proposal isn't a given. That should provide a platform for some reasoned debate.

People mightn't like some of the ideas which Labour's finance spokesman Michael Cullen has espoused recently. The flip side to this is that he has shown the industry he is prepared to discuss issues and look for solutions. He certainly has the intellect to understand the issues, and it seems he is prepared to be swayed by sound arguments.

With the polls indicating a centre-left victory there is an argument that to dampen the influence of fringe parties give the senior party a strong and workable mandate.

There are many issues to consider before voting. If the state of the superannuation and savings industry is important to you it is quite possible that, on balance, a Labour-led government would be a positive boost for the industry.

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