Credit: Original article can be found here
It is a pleasure to speak to this Budget. The 5th we have had the privilege of delivering, and in no less extraordinary circumstances.
Mr Speaker, the business and cycle of Government is, in some ways, no different to life itself.
Navigating difficult times, while also making necessary progress. Dealing with the unexpected, and always, always planning for the future. Challenges not least of which include a one in 100 year health crisis, followed by the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression. And just as the world was recovering, it’s been plunged into the uncertainty of war.
Giving people as much certainty and security as possible in uncertain and insecure times is hard, but it’s what we must pursue.
And that is what we have set out to do in Budget 2022.
Deal with the immediacy of the economic and health challenges Kiwis are facing, while also looking to the challenges of tomorrow, and seeking to buffer our people from both.
It’s an approach that, as always, is focused on people.
Mr Speaker, today we deliver our fourth Wellbeing Budget.
My virtual presence in the debating chamber is obviously not to my preference on such a significant day.
It means for instance, that I am unable to pay tribute to the Minister of Finance, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, in person.
New Zealand has navigated some incredibly difficult times in recent years.
It was only two years ago for instance that the Minister of Finance created the COVID response and recovery fund and delivered a jobs Budget that included investments in business support, infrastructure and trades training.
It protected half of all workers in New Zealand.
It delivered a record amount of new apprentices. It enabled us, in spite of a pandemic, to deliver our 9000th additional public housing place, an economy bigger than even before COVID, and the lowest unemployment rate on record.
These results weren’t a given.
When COVID first emerged we faced sobering forecasts. Treasury predicted 10 percent of people would be unemployed. Hundreds of thousands of people, looking for work and the financial scarring that would bring.
Today’s statistics speak for themselves. Numbers it’s clear the Leader of the Opposition has not read.
Our growth rates are higher than pre-COVID, and in this Budget, forecast to reach 4.2 percent over the next financial year.
Compare that to the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis where rates were less than half that, around 2 percent.
Debt sits at 16.9 percent and is forecast to reach 15 percent in 2026. We’ve had a bigger economic knock from the pandemic but managed with a similar debt impact to the GFC.
We return to surplus in the 2024/25 financial year. A total of five years after COVID hit. Compare that to the GFC where it took six.
And finally, unemployment sits at 3.2 percent and is forecast to reach as low as 3 percent. Māori unemployment sits at 6.3 percent and Pacific at 6.7 percent.
Compare that to the GFC where for our Māori and Pacific families it was more than double those rates.
Now that is not to say that times aren’t tough for many New Zealanders right now. They are. And not just here but around the world.
But in the midst of a crisis, in the midst of such tough economic times globally, we are well placed to recover with one of the best economies in the world – and there are many reasons for that, but Grant Robertson is one. And for that I thank him.
It was Labour who got us through COVID, and it is a Labour Government who will get New Zealand through the next set of challenges as well. And that is what this Budget is all about.
Addressing the challenges of today, but also of tomorrow.
COST OF LIVING
And Mr Speaker, when it comes to today, there is no more universal challenge right now than the cost of living.
Globally, we know that we are not alone, as inflation pushes up prices around the world.
The average rate of inflation in the EU is 7.7 percent. It’s high in Canada and Germany. Just yesterday the UK hit 9 percent. In the Netherlands it’s nearly 10 percent.
And while there are many reasons for it, one thing forecasters are predicting, is that it will improve in the latter half of 2022.
But that doesn’t help Kiwis now. While we can’t control global inflation forces, our job is to take the hard edges off it for Kiwis.
And that is why this Budget includes a cost of living package to cushion the impact for middle and low income families.
We had to be incredibly careful in developing this package.
To make sure it reached those who needed it most.
Anything too broad could make inflation worse.
And that’s exactly what the National Party’s tax cuts to the wealthiest would do – they would feed inflation while giving the biggest benefit to those who need it the least.
We also needed to make sure our response was sustainable, and that it eased pressure on families while also keeping up the investments in their healthcare system, and in their education system.
After all, no one would thank us for short term relief that came at the expense of long term services that Kiwis rely on.
And we also wanted to make sure that what we did was timely.
The result is the Cost of Living Package we have delivered today.
First, it continues the reduction of the cost of fuel at the pump by 25 cents a litre through till August.
The war in Ukraine is continuing to make prices volatile, and this is some certainty that we can provide in the meantime, for everyone.
Secondly, in August, a short term and targeted Cost of Living payment kicks in, helping to transition from the excise reduction.
It will be paid to middle and low income earners over the age of 18, everyone who earns up to $70,000, who isn’t already getting the Winter Energy Payment.
It means those who are doing the vital but unpaid work of caring, such as a stay at home parent, will also be eligible for the payment.
It will be paid monthly for three months and equates to an extra $27 a week, or $350. This payment is predicted to last for the quarter where we expect inflation to begin easing.
It will support more than 2 million people, and means that 81 percent of New Zealanders aged 18 and over will either be receiving the Winter Energy Payment or the temporary Cost of Living payment this year.
No temporary fast relief can be perfect, but it can make a difference.
Thirdly, half price fares for public transport will remain until the end of August, and then a new change kicks in.
All community service card holders will continue to be able to travel for half price, permanently. This change will not just last through the current inflation spike, but for good.
Because we believe subsidised public transport makes a difference – for people and the planet.
Fourthly, as part of our urgent Budget night legislation, we begin the process of addressing the root causes of high prices in our grocery sector. We have a lack of competition in this country, and it is impacting food prices and it’s impacting families.
While there is much to do here, following the Commerce Commission report we are starting today with unravelling some of the tactics to block competitors. But I can assure you, this is just the start.
Finally, today we right a long-standing wrong that hits those who can least afford it when cost of living spikes.
For those on government support, we are finally dealing with the issue of child support pass on.
Many people may not know this, but in New Zealand, those who are on government support do not receive the child support payments made by an ex-partner, spouse or parent.
Whatever payments are made, are retained by the state. That is unfair on a child, and also lessens the incentive for a parent to pay.
Budget 2022 changes this. It means our kids, those with a parent often on the lowest of incomes, will get extra support not from the Government, but from their parent. And it will lift up to an extra 14,000 children out of poverty.
Mr Speaker, while in this Budget the forecasts show that cost of living pressures are set to subside, there is no question that while they are here, it hurts.
We’ve done what is possible to blunt the hard edges – while ensuring we don’t pour more fuel on the inflation fire.
It’s a position other countries we compare ourselves to are taking as well.
And it’s that reason, that I would hope the Opposition would support the package we have presented today. I call on them to do so.
Now I know that they have opposed the April 1 income changes we made to increase the Family Tax Credit.
They have spoken openly against subsidies for things like public transport, in the same way they have opposed just about any climate related policy, even if it’s one that eases the cost of living.
They have a policy of giving $2 a week to those we have proposed giving closer to $30.
But if they are genuinely concerned about the cost of living and not just politics, surely they will support this package.
Because it does more for people here and now, and it does not leave the tin empty when there are so many other challenges we must address.
And if it is Mr Speaker, that they would rather stick with their policy of tax cuts for the top income earners, then we know for sure that they don’t support the substantial health investments in this Budget.
Because you cannot do both.
And that brings me to our health system.
New Zealanders know how excellent it can be. I frequently receive letters from New Zealanders so grateful for the care they’ve received. But it is often supplemented with: “Please, do more to improve the system our health professionals work in.”
Today Budget 2022 provides the largest ever investment in our health system. $11.1 billion for more nurses, more medicines and to end the postcode lottery to ensure that Health New Zealand and the Māori Health Authority are able to make the changes needed to deliver better health services to all New Zealanders.
Whether they live in Tairāwhiti, Buller, Whangārei, Masterton or Dunedin.
On health, the Leader of the Opposition has shown himself to be a short haul guy, not a long haul guy, or if you live in the regions no haul.
We’re making the largest ever single contribution to Pharmac’s Medicines budget – bringing total funding to $1.2 billion, up 43 percent since we took office.
I’m going to say that again. PHARMAC funding is up 43 percent since we took office.
Our life saving ambulance services, supported to recruit an extra 248 more paramedics and frontline staff and 48 more ambulances, as well as chopper replacements.
We know that COVID has left scars on the mental health of many New Zealanders, and so $202 million has been allocated to further improve access to mental health and addiction services, particularly for those with acute needs and we are continuing to invest in two programmes that support young people’s mental health: Mana Ake, which provides mental wellbeing support for primary and intermediate school-aged students, and Piki, a pilot scheme which provides integrated mental health and addiction support for young people. And I acknowledge the Green Party support on these initiatives.
But Mr Speaker I want to make mention of one of the smaller initiatives in the health budget. $7 million for more portable retinal cameras to check the eyes of premature babies, to address one of the leading causes of blindness in children.
Mr Speaker, a third of Budget 2022 investments go to Health.
In the wake of a health crisis, we know how important our health system, and the health of our people, is. This investment speaks clearly of the priorities of the Government, the importance of the wellbeing of our people, and the vital services they deserve.
We are nothing without our health.
And there can be no greater response to the COVID pandemic than ensuring we have a better funded and stronger health system, and that’s what this Budget delivers.
Mr Speaker, we know there are a myriad of other challenges we face.
While in Opposition, I remember once speaking to a social worker who had been in the job for 30 years about what it was we could do as a nation to change the sometimes intergenerational issues children faced.
Without hesitation her response was one word “education”.
No one wants to over simplify what past Children’s Commissioner, Russell Wills, called “wicked problems”. And while there are many contributing factors to complex societal issues, we need to look at both the prevention and the cure.
Yes, we must support the Police to bring a stop to violent behaviour, and for there to be consequences for those who victimise others.
But we must also support our young people onto alternative paths.
And that’s why, we have not just put half a billion dollars into law and order initiatives, to deliver the largest Police force ever, we are also a Government committed to delivering quality education, training and skills development, so that all New Zealanders get the opportunities they need and deserve to live lives of value.
Budget 2022 invests $2 billion in operating funding and $855 million in capital for the education system.
The new equity index relegates the decile system to the past.
We take the largest step yet towards pay parity for our early learning teachers.
We’re supporting kaupapa Maōri services.
But beyond this, skills and training is a further area where we invested throughout the COVID pandemic, to ensure we retained and built a workforce for tomorrow as our economic recovery took off.
We have the lowest unemployment rate on record.
And so we need to reach into every corner to grow our domestic workforce.
Successful programmes like Mana in Mahi, which provides significant support to people furthest from the labour market to upskill and enter employment, receives continued investment this Budget.
We have also extended the Apprenticeship Boost Initiative.
Just last week Mr Speaker I received this letter in response to that pre budget announcement, perhaps the Finance spokesperson for the Opposition received it as well.
“Thank you for extending the Trades Apprenticeship funding, we are so happy at the stability and certainty this will give to my children’s futures as they progress through their recently started mechanics and autoelectrical apprenticeship programs….. We all believed the program would be cancelled from this August and we were so worried about what this would mean. I come from intergenerational depravity which is extremely difficult and severely restricts our lives daily. …witnessing my kids begin on an actual qualification pathway has been a life changing and a very first positive experience for me.”
More than 190,000 Kiwis have been supported through our investments in trades training since the start of COVID, with tens of thousands more supported today.
All necessary as we progress our considerable agenda on housing, which continues in this Budget.
That brings me to our partnership with business. Or what this week I learned, the Opposition considers to be “corporate welfare.”
Small and medium businesses contribute 30 percent to our GDP.
Many are poised to grow, and have the potential to accelerate our economic growth.
Which is why Budget 2022 invests in a new Business Growth Fund, $100 million over the coming year for Crown investment as a minority shareholder alongside New Zealand’s major banks.
Ensuring easier access to up front finance, and the quicker production of more jobs.
It works overseas, in the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia and we’ve been told it fills a much needed gap here.
Finally Mr Speaker, we said that this Budget was focused on the challenges of tomorrow, and no challenge is more present today and in the future than that of climate change.
Where many choose to dwell on what can’t be done, we choose to move on what is not only possible but also the greatest opportunity in our history to move to a high wage low emission economy that provides security in good times and bad.
The delivery of an Emissions Reduction Plan that puts us on track to meet our carbon budget, and I acknowledge Climate Minister James Shaw to deliver that this week.
The biggest investment in climate action ever, paid for through recycling the ETS payments on pollution.
This $2.9 billion investment is the most comprehensive plan New Zealand has ever had on the issue of climate change. And it’s because we cannot responsibly postpone a transition we need to start making today.
One where every sector of society and the economy is considered part of the solution – where we have warmer, dryer, more energy efficient homes, more native climate sinks, energy production that doesn’t require fossil fuels, an upskilled workforce, and the most sustainable food production in the world.
When our future generations look back, I want them to see that we tackled climate change in the way we tackle all other crises – with people and the security of their future at the centre of our decision making.
Because ultimately for governments as with life, we will always face challenges.
And it’s not just how you manage a country through a crisis, it’s how you manage the country out of one as well.
But New Zealand navigated COVID for two years better than most, because we put people first.
That is an approach that Budget 2022 builds upon.
Tackling the issues we face today, while also seizing the opportunities for a secure future for all New Zealanders.
Because we must do both, and Mr Speaker, with this Budget, we are.
Nga mihi nui kia koutou katoa