I’m writing from my desk in Parliament as we grind through urgent legislation after the budget. Well, how does it measure up?
Credit where credit’s due. Most would agree that further investment in mental health is warranted. And they’ve done that, or at least announced that they will do it. A National Government led by Simon Bridges would have done something similar. The challenge will be, as always, successfully making a difference on the ground – giving New Zealanders who need it better access to help.
More money to address family and sexual violence, if well spent, will make a difference to those Kiwis afflicted by violence, as will money devoted to help children in state care or in the youth justice system.
But for all the wellbeing hype, it’s hard to find much else.
We shouldn’t forget that this budget comes in the midst of a ‘sharp slowdown’ in the New Zealand economy. We were running hot, at around 4 per cent growth, at the tail end of the National government; that growth has withered away to the low 2 per cent range.
Each one percent GDP growth lost, represents around $3 billion.
A day doesn’t go by without someone saying that we haven’t got something the Australians have got – the latest pharmaceuticals, or high salaries for teachers.
The sad news, folks, is the Australians are much richer than us. Just ask Vicky, the smiling woman on the cover of the budget documents.
That’s why Jacinda Ardern can talk wellbeing till she’s blue in the face, but if our economy is slowing we’re not going to get much of it.
This budget had scarcely anything in it to address this fundamental challenge.
That’s the scandal of this budget.
One of the five themes of the budget is ‘transforming the economy’. But the key policy under it is a $1 billion subsidy for rail. Really? I like trains as much as the next person, but if that’s as good as they’ve got, we haven’t much hope.
Spending more, giving yourself more room to borrow more, and hoping is not an economic strategy.
Instead we need to policies to increase the flow of private sector investment into the economy, investment in useful infrastructure, education and skills funding that’s not wasted on bribes like free-fees, and sensible approach to using our wealth of natural resources, regulatory restraint, lower taxes and some policy certainty, rather than throwing everything up in the air with 200-odd reviews and wondering why everyone is paralysed while they await the outcome.
And, I haven’t even started on the budget dramas. ‘Sergei’ Bridges is no hacker. He’s just an Opposition leader doing his job well – pointing out more incompetence from an incompetent government; highlighting the inconsistencies in the budget. He held firm through the usual litany of smears and predictions of his demise to show that for all the $3.8 billion of new money available for this government to spend, they’ve botched it.