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'Confused priorities' – Simon Bridges doubles down on criticism of Government's coronavirus relief package

Simon Bridges is doubling down in criticising the Government for increasing support for beneficiaries during the coronavirus crisis, saying the Government needs to focus on supporting businesses first.

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While acknowledging that people are going to lose their jobs regardless, the National leader said supporting businesses "has to be the priority". Source: Breakfast

The National Party leader says larger businesses aren't able to access the support from yesterday's relief package, but Finance Minister Grant Robertson says there are different provisions in place for them.

While on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, Mr Bridges showed some support for the funding, acknowledging "it's great it's a big package" at $12.1 billion.

It includes $500 million for healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic, $2.8 in income support and boosting spending, and $8.7 billion for businesses and jobs, including wage subsidies.

He praised the inclusion of job support, as he'd been calling for ahead of the announcement, but doubled down on last night's comments that it showed "confused priorities".

"You've mentioned the benefits but I say, I appreciate there are people are doing it tough, and I don't deny that, but I say that when you're only putting half a billion into health, we've got a massive job gearing up in that area, when actually the deficits in our DHBs right now is $700 million, so more than that, that that's a confused priority."

Mr Bridges said he would've put more money into health, but demurred when pressed on how much.

"It's difficult to say, ultimately you've got to put in whatever is required and I don't have advice for that, but certainly more."

He pointed at the $5.1 billion in wage subsidies, by far the largest single investment.

It covers up to $585 a week for full-time employees, or $350 a week for part-time, up to $150,000 per business.

Mr Bridges said that's not enough.

"That gets you to 21 employees. Grant Robertson's clearly said 'you know what, we'll cover small businesses, we're not going to worry about the rest,'" he says.

"I think the minimum wage halt is a no-brainer, I think issues around coming in and guaranteeing some of the loans for these businesses under stress is a no-brainer, all with the purpose of keeping businesses going. 

"I think that's got to be the priority right now, over the $25 increase for benefits, over a winter energy payment for superannuats and the like."

FINANCE MINISTER GRANT ROBERTSON FIRES BACK

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There’s $12.1 billion being invested, but Grant Robertson admits they won’t be able to help every business. Source: Breakfast

However Mr Robertson has rejected that criticism, pointing out that there's separate funding for large businesses.

There's $2.8 billion in tax changes for businesses and $600 million in aviation support, as well as $126 million for self-isolation and coronavirus leave support.

Larger businesses need to work with their banks, which have also been given some leeway as the official cash rate was slashed to 0.25 per cent.

As for the benefit increase, Mr Robertson was blunt.

"The reality is, we cannot save every business here. We're trying to cushion the blow," he told Breakfast this morning.

"It's about getting the balance right. More people are going to be, unfortunately, having to access this support."

By boosting benefit payments, it will also help stimulate the economy by giving struggling people more money to spend on things like food and other expenses.

When it comes to the health system funding, Mr Robertson admitted there's a serious deficit.

But he says it's a bigger issue than just coronavirus and will take more to fix.

Yesterday's funding boost is focused on the Covid-19 outbreak, looking at the public health response, testing and tracing, ICU space, ventilators and public health campaigns, Mr Robertson says.

"The health system's going to continually get money injected as we fight this virus," he says.

"We're trying to make sure we focus on the next 12 weeks [in this package]."