Covid-19 has given Robertson the chance to break records with his Budget (but he will wonder where the surpluses went)

Grant  Robertson,   when he  took on the Finance  portfolio, almost certainly   did not envisage the  kind of  records  he would be setting  in  next week’s  budget.    Surpluses have  evaporated:  instead he   will be setting  records   in deficits  and borrowing.

For long  enough he has  cited  international   agency  reports to underline how  orthodox he has been  in handling the  nation’s finances.  Now the challenge is to  sustain that  faith,  as he  embarks  on saving the  NZ economy  from  a  disaster  worse than the  Great  Depression.

ANZ  Bank  economists  are saying Treasury’s Budget Economic and Fiscal Update (BEFU) will show rapidly widening fiscal deficits in the near term that will send debt spiking higher.

“For our part, we expect net core Crown debt will lift to 40-50% of GDP, with the total Crown OBEGAL recording a near-term deficit close to 10% of GDP. This could see bond issuance lift to around $145bn over the next few years, $100bn higher than December’s Half-Year Update”.

 Those  are   breathtaking  numbers. Continue reading “Covid-19 has given Robertson the chance to break records with his Budget (but he will wonder where the surpluses went)”

Outside of Parliament, the cold water thrown over the Wellbeing Budget should dampen Robertson’s rapture

Finance Minister  Grant  Robertson   could not disguise the rapture that had seized him, when   he was questioned this week in  Parliament  on reactions  to   the budget.

He  was  excited,  apparently,   because  the government  had received  an  “overwhelming”  response from the people of  NZ to the  wellbeing budget.  There had  been a   vast  amount of  correspondence.

He cited   the  Salvation Army as  seeing the budget as   “a step on the path towards lifting New Zealanders out of poverty”  and the Children’s Commissioner  likewise  believing  it “takes seriously the need for a step-change in the way we support the wellbeing of NZ children”.

Good stuff, then, even though it  may  sound a bit  weird  to Kiwis   who  had believed their  country’s living standards  rank  reasonably   well  against  those of  other  developed  nations.  Continue reading “Outside of Parliament, the cold water thrown over the Wellbeing Budget should dampen Robertson’s rapture”

Ministers are braying about the dispensing of budget goodies (and highlighting how your taxes are being spent)

The Point of Order Trough Monitor was seriously overheated on Budget Day and we switched it off.

Readers eager to learn who got their snouts into the rich swill dished up that day – and which troughers had their state-funded nourishment reduced  or withdrawn – will find it here.

Budget at a Glance 2019 (at-a-glance summary).

Budget Speech 2019

Summary of Initiatives in Budget 2019

The Estimates of Appropriations for the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ending 30 June 2020

Summary Tables for the Estimates of Appropriations 2019/20

 Supplementary Estimates of Appropriations for the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ending 30 June 2019

Summary Tables for the Supplementary Estimates of Appropriations 2018/19

We suspect few readers can spare the time required to exhaustively scrutinise a myriad of spending decisions and work out whose wellbeing is being better served than others.

But the Trough Monitor has been reactivated this week and almost immediately registered a bundle of post-Budget press statements by Ministers who are keen (we may presume) to let their constituents know about their generosity with our money.

Two of the statements draw attention to race-based spending intended to benefit specific ethnic communities.  Continue reading “Ministers are braying about the dispensing of budget goodies (and highlighting how your taxes are being spent)”

Bhutan was into well-being long before NZ – and the bureaucrats could be an obstacle here

As  the  dust settles   after   last week’s  budget   (or should that be  on last week’s  budget),  it  has been  hard to  find   any  commentators  who  thought it   was  “transformational”.  Those  who  might be  identified as  Left-leaning didn’t  break into raptures;   some who claim to be  independent (Duncan  Garner,  for  example) were  critical  (“what should have been a  triumph  became a nightmare”);  and on the right  a   headline over a  Matthew Hooton  essay (“Well-being  just  Wellington BS”)   was  fairly  typical.              

Of  course, there  were  some  like  Audrey   Young   in the  NZ  Herald who  thought it  was  a  “marketing triumph  for  Ardern and  Robertson so far”,  although   she  sensibly applied  a  caveat   that  slow growth   “could  nix feel-good  factor of the  well-being  Budget”.

Across  the  Tasman,    commentary  on  the  NZ  budget   was  highly  laudatory,  particularly  from those pundits   who  were still red-faced from predicting  a Labour shoo-in   at  the  Federal  election. Continue reading “Bhutan was into well-being long before NZ – and the bureaucrats could be an obstacle here”

Ron Mark is readying to flesh out details of budget boost to defence spending

In a couple of weeks Defence Minister Ron Mark will unveil the next update in the government’s defence capability plan.  This is expected to flesh out some of the basic information provided in last Thursday’s budget, which earmarked $5.06bn for defence, a substantial 23% increase over the budgeted 2018-19 defence allocation of $4.11bn.

A major item is expected to be the replacement for the RNZAF’s Lockheed Hercules.

The Lockheed Martin C-130J is the choice of the NZ Defence Force despite the attractions of other candidates, including the Embraer KC390 turbo-fan and the Japanese Kawasaki C-2.  Both are new and as Point of Order has explained before, the NZDF is reluctant  to choose a new type which isn’t operated by  the country’s closest allies. Continue reading “Ron Mark is readying to flesh out details of budget boost to defence spending”

It’s his first crack at a wellbeing budget, folks, so grant Robertson a bit of slack

Finance Minister Grant Robertson proudly proclaimed to a Wellington business audience this week that the Labour-led coalition “is getting on with the job of starting to fix the long-term challenges facing NZ and providing opportunity for all”.

He insists the “Wellbeing Budget” he will present later this month is about a new approach to tackling these challenges. His priorities, he says, are clear – the government is:

• Taking mental health seriously,
• Breaking the cycle on child poverty and domestic violence,
• Investing in crucial national infrastructure, like building new hospitals and schools; while
• Managing the books responsibly, and
• Addressing long-term economic challenges like building a sustainable economy and preparing for the jobs of the future.

He sensibly inserted a caveat:  it’s a first attempt at a wellbeing budget

“ … and we are not going to get things 100% right the first time around. Governments have been preparing budgets the same way for decades, so this is a significant change. But we are learning throughout this process and will look to improve it over years to come”.

Just as well, perhaps, since Opposition Leader Simon Bridges was seeking to rain on the Robertson parade.  He issued a press statement pointing out the PM and Robertson had last year launched the ‘Business Partnership Agenda’ which they said ‘brings together the strands of this government’s economic strategy’.

“Since then the Prime Minister and her Finance Minister haven’t mentioned the agenda once.  Not in a speech, a press release or even a tweet. The website hasn’t been updated since it was launched.  It still lists the Chief Technology Officer as a government initiative, despite the idea being axed in September last year. Eleven of the website links on the page don’t even work.”

Bridges rubbed it in by saying this is a government with no economic plan: the “Business Partnership Agenda” was clearly made up on the hoof and then forgotten about after the daily news cycle. “All talk, no action”.

So Robertson will have to be on his game when he presents the budget. He says the government will measure its success by how well it improves the living standards and wellbeing of all NZers.

“Yes, we need prosperity, but we also need to care about how we sustain and maintain that and who gets to share in it.  In order to succeed in this, we need all the tools available to the government to consider wider wellbeing outcomes, to ensure that everything the government does is done explicitly to improve the lives of NZers.

“The government does not dictate a person’s wellbeing. But if we make improving wellbeing our purpose then we have a decent shot at helping improve the lives of all our people”.

NZ still has thousands of young people not in employment, education or training. The home ownership rate has fallen to its lowest rate in over 60 years.

NZ has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD. Hundreds of thousands of children are growing up in poverty.  And Māori and Pasifika continue to experience poor outcomes.

“For me, a simple growth rate is just not sufficient to tell us what success looks like”.

The Finance Minister goes on:

“There are three fundamental elements to our wellbeing plan.

“First, a whole-of-government approach. This is about stepping out of the silos of agencies and working together to assess, develop and implement initiatives to improve wellbeing.

“Secondly, a wellbeing approach means looking at inter-generational outcomes. We have to think about the long-term impacts on future generations at the same time as meeting the needs of the present.

“Thirdly, we need to move beyond narrow measures of success.  The Treasury’s Living Standards Framework is at the core of our approach to this Budget, but the government also has other success measures to draw on as well, such as child wellbeing and poverty indicators, and Statistics NZ’s Indicators Aotearoa NZ.

“Taken together, these are steps forward in giving ourselves a much richer picture of how we are tracking as a country. Ultimately the wellbeing approach still needs to help us make better decisions, identifying trade-offs and balancing outcomes”.

So what’s the essence of the new plan? Robertson sees a wellbeing approach as recognising and weighing up the overall pros and cons of government policy on all of the things that enable New Zealanders to live lives of purpose and value. The job is to ensure that the whole system of government is geared towards improving wellbeing and living standards.

“The focus at budget time is on new spending, but there is much to do to make sure that the baseline and core expenditure is aligned to our goals.  I will have more to say about this in the coming weeks, but we have to ensure our legislative framework, planning, reporting and accountability arrangements shift to support the wellbeing approach.

“Functionally, this requires a different approach to the way budgets have been done in the past.  Previous budgets have essentially been a contestable fund.  Individual agencies would develop and submit bids. The Finance Minister and a small group of other Ministers then made relatively arbitrary decisions on what would and wouldn’t be funded.

“So what is different about this budget?Fundamentally, this year we have taken a much more strategic approach to the budget’s development and production. The budget priorities have been developed on the basis of a wellbeing analysis.

“We have looked at the evidence to assess where we have the greatest opportunities to make a difference to New Zealanders’ wellbeing and we have focused our efforts on those opportunities”.

To inform this analysis the government has drawn on demographic and other data from the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework dashboard, as well as other evidence and advice from science advisors and other sector experts.  This information does not necessarily tell us what interventions should be made, but it shines a powerful light on where interventions are most needed, and where the biggest difference can be made.

The Wellbeing Budget priorities developed from this approach are:

  • Creating opportunities for productive businesses, regions, iwi and others to transition to a sustainable and low-emissions economy;
  • Supporting a thriving nation in the digital age through innovation, social and economic opportunities;
  • Reducing child poverty and improving child wellbeing, including addressing family violence;
  • Supporting mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders, with a special focus on under 24-year-olds; and
  • Lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities.

“These represent some of the biggest long-term challenges and opportunities that we face as a country. They will not be solved in one go. These are obviously complex, multi-faceted issues, requiring sustained attention and a collaborative, joined-up government”.

Earlier in his speech Robertson had noted the gap between rhetoric and reality was in many senses the defining issue of the 2017 election, and what led to the formation of the Coalition Government.

“This gap between rhetoric and reality, between haves and have-nots, between the elites and the people, has been exploited by populists around the globe.

It is a long-term view of mine, and the parties that make up this government, that we need to close this gap in an inclusive, not exclusive way, because it is the right thing to do and because we need to do so to ensure the public keep faith and trust in government”.

So as the country awaits this revolutionary new approach, let’s hope the gap between rhetoric and reality doesn’t stretch any wider.

Given the government’s reluctance to make the tax system “fairer”, the growing number of homeless, its bungled KiwiBuild programme, and the still high levels of child poverty, there’s a fair bit hanging on the “well being” to be delivered in the budget.

The capital gains tax is scrapped – but revenue raisers are looking for other ways to skin us

Cabinet,  we  are  told,  has  signed off  on  the  budget,  to be  presented   next  month. This  year  the focus  is to be   on  “well-being”.

It’s a phrase  that  captures  the  style  of  the  Prime  Minister   Jacinda  Ardern.  If  the  budget  delivers,  it  will  reinforce  public perceptions  of  Labour’s  leadership whose  ratings  have  shot up  in  the  wake of the Christchurch  mosque  massacre.

But  will the  budget  be  “transformative”?

NZ’s  economy  under Labour over the past  six months  has shown  increasing   signs of   slowing.

Recent indicators  of a weakening economy include rising job-seeker numbers, stalled job growth, a rising cost of living, lower economic growth forecasts by all major banks, weakening business confidence,  and the Reserve Bank  signalling a cut in interest rates  to stimulate economic activity. Continue reading “The capital gains tax is scrapped – but revenue raisers are looking for other ways to skin us”

Budget surpluses are Robertson’s aim but well-being pressures will test his prowess

Finance  Minister Grant Robertson has headed for Washington for the spring meetings of the  IMF  and  World Bank,  as  well as  for  talks   with other   finance  ministers  and  senior  US  government  officials.

Despite  the darkening cloud  on the global  economy   Robertson  is  gung-ho  about the  state of the  NZ  economy,  although  he   concedes that, as an outward-facing export nation,

“ … NZ is not immune to this global uncertainty, and we have to bear that in mind as we transition to a more productive, sustainable, and inclusive economy”.

In  Parliament  before   his  departure for  Washington  he cited reports which indicate the NZ economy continues to out-perform its international peers.  Continue reading “Budget surpluses are Robertson’s aim but well-being pressures will test his prowess”