It’s that time of the year again when the Finance Minister Bill English tells us how he is going to spend our money. This is his eighth budget and one that follows a familiar pattern. Something in it for businesses, our housing crisis, for the health sector, and a warning that we need to be prudent spenders to maintain a rock solid economy. The only real surprise of the whole thing was the “security risk” in the form of a group of protesters and a “suspicious vehicle” outside Parliament that was quickly quashed.
It wasn’t that exciting really. There was a lot of speculation about what English would produce as his ace in the deck, but it turns out the Government is keeping its cards close to its chest in the run-up to next year’s election. They’re keeping it simple and playing it safe; most new spending is going to core public services like health and education, but I do suppose they are issues that many Kiwis care about and always want to see more money go towards.
Health is the big winner: it’s getting $2.2 billion over four years, with most of that going towards district health boards as they struggle with increased demand and rising populations. There is even some cash to increase the number of elective surgeries, and to roll out a national bowel cancer screening programme.
Innovation is important too. An “Innovative New Zealand” package intended to encourage entrepreneurship, skills and economic growth, has received $761 million over four years – with a strong focus on science.
Tackling the housing crisis is still a work in progress: There’s $200 million to fund another 750 social houses, along with $100 million for Nick Smith’s criticised scheme to build housing on Crown land, but much of the outrage around the housing issues facing New Zealanders today came too little too late to be fully addressed in the Budget.
High immigration numbers are taking a toll, so the Government has brought forward $600 million a year of new spending, to tackle a higher than expected population growth straining the public services.
A ‘Social Investment’ approach won in favour with English having spoken previously about making better use of government data to identify public services which can assist the country’s most vulnerable, and $625 million over four years – including $200 million for the Child Youth and Family overhaul.
Smokers’ wallets are set to burn. Excise taxes on cigarettes will continue to increase by 10 per cent a year, meaning the average price of a pack of ciggies will increases from $20 now to $30 by 2020. Call Quitline on 0800 778 778 if you ask me…
Any room for tax cuts this year? It’s a work in progress as English remains coy about the possibility of tax cuts in 2017, saying that’s a decision for the future…
After years of trying to read the Finance Minister’s poker face, everyone was expecting him to pull a rabbit out of the hat, like last year’s pay rise for beneficiaries. But it was business as usual, with a focus on rising pressure points in our public sectors. More money to the police to cover wage rises, extra spending on apprenticeships, a big science and innovation package, money targeting special needs students and under achieving students, extra investment in cycle trails. Just your typical meat and veg announcements spreading the available money as widely as possible.
So we know who the big winners are, but who is missing out? While there is money for social housing, the Government leaves the solution to the supply of shortage of houses in Auckland up to developers, taking a “sorry guys not our problem” approach… nice.
There is also little in the Budget that will make our dairy farmers sleep better at night. In the announcement English pointed towards a focus on schools, child health and prevention on crime. These issues seem to go hand-in hand with an uneven distribution of wealth in our country and quite frankly, we can do better.
Every year this is a massive buildup of anticipation that comes with the Budget – but we all leave feeling deflated with no real surprises but nothing we can really complain about. It certainly isn’t ambitious as the Finance Minister may want us to believe, but it’s sensible and is a Budget we can live with.
Then came a response to the Minister’s speech. Labour leader Andrew Little said the government had no long-term strategy to the real problems being faced by New Zealanders for eight years.
He was most focused on what he said was a lack of measures to address housing affordability, and stressed that National had eight years to come up with a plan.
The Budget is apparently “scratched out, patch work” designed to look like an economic strategy.
The Government’s approach to economic management was akin to a fair, where “candy floss” and “a few trinkets” were handed out. The spending items in the Budget were like those to be won in a quick-fire raffle “when you get home and find it’s past its use by date.”
“Out of touch” and “non-delivering” apparently…
So what’s the real solution then Little? Three years’ free tertiary education or training, delivering more for everyone, and building more houses. It’s illogical and unsustainable, I’m sorry.
And here’s where I have a problem with petty politics. I’m sick of the opposition calling out the as government “out of touch” and “utter failures”, without offering any alternative and sustainable solutions to the real issues facing New Zealand. The government do not wake up every morning hatching a plan to see how they can destroy the New Zealand economy. We may not all agree and that’s what opposition in a democracy is for. But until any real solutions are created, there is no need for negative petty backchat. The Government’s Budget proposed some good, centralist policies for us all who are focused on the social issues as well as the economic growth of New Zealand. Some of the policies proposed seemed to mirror policies that Labour had proposed in the past! It seems to me that Little pre wrote his speech weeks in advance insisting that National “failed to deliver” regardless of what was going to be announced. There could have been a different approach taken: “The Budget is solid, but here’s what we could do better.” Case in point Jacinda Ardern…
I’ll continue to be a Labour supporter because of politicians like Jacinda. Approaches like these encourage belief in our elected officials. People feel disillusioned by politicians because all it seems they do these days is accuse one another of not caring about New Zealand and not focusing on the real issues. It’s no wonder that roughly a million people didn’t bother voting in the last election.
So why don’t you SHOW us you care, by putting the importance of delivering good policies in front of the importance of being petty politicians.
“We believe that err is human. To blame it on someone else is politics.”