Finance Minister Grant Robertson has acknowledged these are tough times for New Zealanders. So, did he deliver the kind of budget that will mitigate – if not alleviate – the tough conditions?
Listening to Labour MPs as the budget debate in Parliament wound up this week, one might have believed Robertson had performed miracles.
Here, for example, is Palmerston North MP Tangi Utikere:
“This is a fantastic Budget that we should all be very proud of. I am proud of the largest investment in health ever—over $11 billion…. This particular investment from a Labour Government is aimed at providing better care at that primary and community level, helping and supporting our Māori and Pasifika community members, amongst others as well…
“I want to conclude my contribution this afternoon with two things. One is to say that I’m proud to be a member of the 11-strong Pasifika caucus within the Labour Party. Last week we took the opportunity to meet with communities in Auckland but also in the Ōtaki electorate as well, hearing about the difference that Tupu Aotearoa and STEAM academy funding will make for that community.
“The second thing is that I am so proud of the ongoing support for the Apprenticeship Boost funding. In previous general debate slots, I have talked about that. I have talked about a local company, Norwood, in my city and I’ve talked about how valued that support was.
“What was exciting was the chief executive of that company, at their chamber of commerce lunch last week, was able to directly share with the Minister of Finance his appreciation for the support of the Government for the ongoing nature of that initiative. I am proud to commend this Budget to the House.”
Wairarapa MP Kieran McNulty was equally enthusiastic:
“What we have in this Budget is a Budget that delivers for Kiwis and plans for the future. Actually, I think this Budget is a Budget that delivers for rural New Zealand, because the money that is going into our health system will mean better services in rural areas….
“The New Zealand people are not dumb, they will see right through [what the Opposition is saying]. They will also see that this Budget actually delivers.
“Take the cost-of-living assistance, for example—the exact thing that the National Party said they would deliver. This Government does it in a way that is more targeted, less inflationary, and actually helps the people that need it.
“They’ve seen this Budget. They’ve seen that we’re committed to the people of New Zealand, and they’ll see the National Party for what they are.”
Winding up the debate, Robertson also was positive about the effects the budget would have.
“These are tough times for many New Zealand businesses and households, and what those businesses and households know is that there is a government that is backing them—backing them in exactly the same way that we did through COVID-19.
“I have had the privilege of going on the road after the Budget all around New Zealand, listening to New Zealanders and meeting with people to hear from them, and one of the consistent themes was the fact that people around the country are grateful for the fact that the Government stood alongside them through initiatives like the wage subsidy scheme, like the resurgence support payment, and like the small business cash-flow scheme. These are the things that got businesses and households through COVID-19. That’s because the Government backed New Zealanders: to give them cash flow and confidence, and those New Zealanders know that we will back them again as we go through this challenging year that we’re facing in 2022.
“Putting this Budget together required a very careful balance of three things. The first of those is: supporting New Zealanders in the here and now, because the global inflation spike that we are seeing is affecting New Zealanders when they go to the supermarket and when they’re at the petrol pump. What this Government has done is respond with practical measures that actually address the issues where inflation is hitting and the causes of inflation, not the things we’ve heard from the other side of the House: the untargeted ideas that they have about tax cuts for those who earn more than $180,000, or somehow the idea that we could cut health spending and that would lower prices at the supermarket. That is the logic that we are hearing from the National Party.
“Instead, what we have done is made sure that we are supporting people—in particular, with the cost of living: the payment that starts on 1 August of $350, or $27 a week. Here’s my prediction: the people who get that will think, ‘Thank you, that is actually a contribution. It’s not going to make up for every single thing that’s happening, but it is a contribution.’—and it is a lot better than 2 bucks a week that someone earning $40,000 would be getting from the National Party, while people earning over $180,000 would be getting significantly more.
“It comes on top of the package on 1 April that lifted main income benefits. That means that this Government has lifted benefits in 2020, 2021, and 2022, and any crocodile tears from the National Party about what they would do for low-income New Zealanders—they need to remember that they opposed every single one of those increases, just like they opposed the minimum wage, just like they’re opposing the fair pay agreements. Anything that we do on this side of the House to lift the incomes of New Zealanders gets opposed by the National Party.
“But along with that, we’ve extended the fuel excise duty cut, the road-user charges cut, and half-price public transport. I am very proud of the fact that this Budget means that half-price public transport will extend for community service card holders for ever. That is the beginning of the commitments that we’re making to make sure that New Zealanders are supported to make sustainable transport choices.
“So, supporting people in the here and now matters.”
There was much more in that vein.
So, one might think support for Labour in the polls would have soared.
But what happened? The latest poll showed Labour still on a slide, down at 35% support, a long way from the 50% at the last election.
Another poll before the budget revealed 68% of Kiwis wanted a tax cut from it.
Clearly as many people are worried about the cost of living “crisis” — a crisis that the Prime Minister was denying existed only weeks before the budget was presented.
Or are people more worried about the shortage of housing, and its high cost?
The PM said she wanted to end homelessness. Since she took office, however, the number of people assessed as being in urgent need of housing has increased by a massive 512%.
Now people lucky enough to have homes, but with mortgages, face big increases in repayments as interest rates rise.
What about child poverty? Did the Budget celebrate its disappearance?
Instead, we had this news item:
“KidsCan was founded in 2005, at the time providing services to over 40 schools that were struggling with children in poverty. In 2022, it’s estimated they will assist 1000.”
During a tour of the charity’s Auckland centre, Opposition leader Christopher Luxon asked if the levels of child poverty had changed in New Zealand during that 18-year period. The answer:
“To be frank poverty is the worst it’s [ever] been for families.”
Then there was this:
“In the 12 months to March 2022, crime increased in Auckland city and more people began living on the street. Police statistics reveal 1971 assaults, 148 aggravated robberies and 1666 thefts from stores in that period. This was about 30 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels”.
So, if there were good things in the budget, they may be forgotten sooner than those Labour MPs would like to think.