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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 4—Finance

4. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Will he commit to criteria for undertaking spending under the authority of the second Imprest Supply Bill for 2021/22; if so, what will those criteria be?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): As the member I’m sure is aware, there are already conditions attached to the authority granted under an imprest supply bill. This is because every Government going back to 1989 has had multiple imprest supply bills in each financial year, and the process around them is well established. Specifically, any expenditure incurred under the authority of the Imprest Supply (Second for 2021/22) Bill will need to be appropriated by Parliament before the end of the 2021-22 financial year. Authority under an imprest supply Act also only relates to the period a particular Act is in force. The authority granted by the first imprest supply bill for 2021/22 is repealed by the passing of the main appropriations bill. The second imprest supply bill, which is generally passed alongside the main appropriations bill, as we intend to do later today, is generally repealed by the supplementary estimates bill. If the member casts his mind back some months, he will recall that we did just that on Budget day 2021. For further assistance in this particular point, the member may find the current edition of McGee an invaluable resource in this regard.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Will he be using imprest supply to fund initiatives under the guise of responding to COVID-19 that are neither related to responding to, or recovering from, COVID-19, rather than using the main estimates of appropriations?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The imprest supply bill contains, as it always has done, a number of different matters. This includes demand-driven needs within departments. It also includes tagged contingencies that come to fruition, and it has always included a buffer for unexpected expenditure. As the member is aware, COVID-19 is an ongoing matter, and it is quite possible that it will be needed to use some of the funding authorised under the imprest supply bill to deal with COVID response and recovery?

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was funding for three waters unexpected expenditure requiring imprest supply authorisation last year?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Funding for three waters came under the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Point of order, Mr Speaker. The question wasn’t “Which fund was it paid from?” My question was: was it unexpected expenditure?

SPEAKER: All right, I’m going to ask the Minister to elaborate.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It was expenditure that was required to support the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. I would need to go back and check whether it was appropriated in the appropriations bill or in the imprest supply bill. Regardless, it ends up in the Estimates. It ends up as part of the parliamentary process for which there can be scrutiny of that expenditure.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Will he commit to COVID spending only of the nature of wage subsidies and resurgence payments through imprest supply, and not things like horse racing and public interest journalism?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Firstly, those matters, by and large, were dealt with in May 2020, through the Budget, through the appropriations bill. Those things were required because, at that point in time, as COVID had only just hit New Zealand shores, its impact was uncertain. If the member casts his mind back to that period, a number of publications, including one such as the New Zealand Listener, were going under and there was an outcry around New Zealand for the Government to do something. The member is applying 2021 hindsight to a 2020 issue.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he accept that taxpayers may be forgiven for thinking that he has used COVID-19 to initiate all manner of non-COVID spending between Budgets, and can taxpayers look forward to this not happening again this financial year?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What taxpayers can look forward to is once again the Government stepping up to make sure that we support New Zealanders through COVID-19. Yes, the wage subsidy and payments around that, and also payments to businesses through the Resurgence Support Payment, and those payments that we make through our Ministry of Social Development, will form the core of the response, as they have in the past. But, also, this Government has an obligation to make sure we support all New Zealanders through this, and we build the basis for recovery. The fund the member is talking about, which he is conflating with the imprest supply Act, is the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. It has always had two R’s in it, and we will continue to focus on both the response and the recovery.