Late May brings falling leaves, some serious rugby and the budget.
At the time of writing I don’t know what’s in the second Labour/NZ First/ Green budget, but it’s a useful exercise from Opposition to consider what it should contain.
Good government is not about good intentions; it’s about delivery. Maintaining sound settings so that our economy can deliver the prosperity that sustains us; so that after-tax family incomes rise faster than household costs.
And providing competent oversight to hold the bureaucracy to account, so that the money we spend delivers high-quality public services – in health, education, welfare, the justice sector, transport infrastructure and beyond.
I expect the Labour/NZ First/ Greens budget will focus on spending. Having highlighted mental health as an urgent issue 18 months ago, I expect very large sums will be devoted to improving services. We agree that the sector does need more investment; the critical thing, as ever, is not to measure success by what money is put in, but in what is delivered in terms of increasing access to help.
The cost of housing was another urgent issue 18 months ago. The hundreds of millions so far devoted to Kiwibuild have delivered very very few houses. The critical reforms to planning and building legislation, promised by the government, haven’t yet materialised.
Any successful budget would point to rapid legislative reform underway to those planning and building rules; it would be ensuring that Inland Revenue has the resources to properly police the existing tax laws around housing speculation. It would focus on taking costs out of construction of new houses.
Traffic congestion blights the lives of many Kiwis, particularly here in Auckland. Any budget worth its salt would offer remedies to that congestion. The Labour/Greens/NZ First government thinks the greatest priority for transport is to spend billions on a slow tram down Dominion Road – while people sit idling in cars south, north, west and east as our city grows.
Cars of the future - electric, hydrogen, hybrid or based on some other form of propulsion - won’t be polluting and contributing to climate change anything like today’s fleet does. A good government wouldn’t devote itself to frustrating people out of their cars, but would point to new ways to use technology to collect road taxes and manage peak congestion.
First and foremost, however, the budget should leave more money in the pockets of working New Zealanders. Every year inflation eats into the Income Tax brackets, taking more out of everyone’s pockets. A good budget would reverse that – only taking for government what it needs.
And, as well as, spending, the budget would articulate a clear strategy to grow the economy. It would have policies to attract and encourage more investment, both international and domestic – to grow the businesses that provide high-paying jobs; it would devote tertiary education resources to deliver world-class education that is responsive to needs of the modern economy, not to a free fees bribe.