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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and can I begin by thanking colleagues across the Chamber for their contributions in response to the Budget debate. I want to particularly acknowledge the contributions made by my colleagues in the Labour caucus. I have listened to them stand in this House and consistently be positive about our country and be positive about the security that we can provide New Zealanders.

These are tough times for many New Zealand businesses and households, and what those businesses and households know is that there is a Government that is backing them—backing them in exactly the same way that we did through COVID-19. I have had the privilege of going on the road after the Budget all around New Zealand, listening to New Zealanders and meeting with people to hear from them, and one of the consistent themes was the fact that people around the country are grateful for the fact that the Government stood alongside them through initiatives like the wage subsidy scheme, like the resurgence support payment, and like the small business cash-flow scheme. These are the things that got businesses and households through COVID-19. That’s because the Government backed New Zealanders: to give them cash flow and confidence, and those New Zealanders know that we will back them again as we go through this challenging year that we’re facing in 2022.

Putting this Budget together required a very careful balance of three things. The first of those is: supporting New Zealanders in the here and now, because the global inflation spike that we are seeing is affecting New Zealanders when they go to the supermarket and when they’re at the petrol pump. What this Government has done is respond with practical measures that actually address the issues where inflation is hitting and the causes of inflation, not the things we’ve heard from the other side of the House: the untargeted ideas that they have about tax cuts for those who earn more than $180,000, or somehow the idea that we could cut health spending and that would lower prices at the supermarket. That is the logic that we are hearing from the National Party.

Instead, what we have done is made sure that we are supporting people—in particular, with the cost of living: the payment that starts on 1 August of $350, or $27 a week. Here’s my prediction: the people who get that will think, “Thank you, that is actually a contribution. It’s not going to make up for every single thing that’s happening, but it is a contribution.”—and it is a lot better than 2 bucks a week that someone earning $40,000 would be getting from the National Party, while people earning over $180,000 would be getting significantly more.

It comes on top of the package on 1 April that lifted main income benefits. That means that this Government has lifted benefits in 2020, 2021, and 2022, and any crocodile tears from the National Party about what they would do for low-income New Zealanders—they need to remember that they opposed every single one of those increases, just like they opposed the minimum wage, just like they’re opposing the fair pay agreements. Anything that we do on this side of the House to lift the incomes of New Zealanders gets opposed by the National Party.

But along with that, we’ve extended the fuel excise duty cut, the road-user charges cut, and half-price public transport. I am very proud of the fact that this Budget means that half-price public transport will extend for community service card holders for ever. That is the beginning of the commitments that we’re making to make sure that New Zealanders are supported to make sustainable transport choices.

So supporting people in the here and now matters, and on Budget night, we did introduce legislation to stop the land banking done by the duopoly in our supermarkets, to make sure that competitors have the confidence that they can come in, and now the Government has come further forward with our responses to the Commerce Commission market study. This means that we’re opening up wholesale. It means that consumers will have transparency around prices. It means that suppliers have a guarantee of a code of conduct. These are the things that mean we will see competitors in our market and we will see fairer grocery prices: practical initiatives from a Government focused on supporting people with cost of living pressures.

The thing that we always need to balance alongside the here and now is how we invest in the future—how we invest in the economic security of New Zealanders—and as part of this Budget, the Climate Emergency Response Fund does a very important thing: it begins our journey to making sure that not only do we meet our net zero emissions goals but that we take the opportunities that come with climate again. Again, as I travelled around the country, I met people in Christchurch, in New Plymouth, and all over New Zealand who want to be a part of this, who want to be driving forward in the hydrogen economy, and who want to be making sure that our industrial plants are heated efficiently, because it makes economic sense as well as it makes environmental sense and its where the high-wage jobs come from.

In contrast, we hear from the National Party that “Yes, we support the goal; we just don’t support any actions to actually reach the goal.” As one of my former colleagues said, “All map and no compass.” That’s what you get from the National Party, because they say they support the goal, just like they did in 2016 with Paris, and, actually, they’re not prepared to take any actions to go towards that, whereas in this Budget, we have a significant package of initiatives through transport, through forestry, through agriculture, through economic development and industry, and through the wage strategy to actually get on top of that and create the high-wage jobs that we need.

Tangi Utikere mentioned this in his speech just before, but the fact that we are continuing to invest in the skills and the training of New Zealanders is significant in this Budget. The extension of the Apprenticeship Boost means another 36,000 New Zealanders will be able to stay in apprentices; 190,000 New Zealanders have been backed by free apprenticeships and free targeted trade training, and it won’t come as a surprise to anyone listening to this speech to learn that the National Party opposed that as well when we brought that in in July 2020.

Alongside that, the Budget lays out the plan for $61 billion of spending in infrastructure over the next five years in New Zealand. That is investment in transport. That is investment in housing. That’s building schools, that’s building our hospitals, and it’s building up all of the assets that New Zealanders will rely on to make sure that we can indeed be a more productive economy, a high-wage economy, and a low-emissions economy that provides economic security.

The thing that all Governments have to do is balance what we’re doing in the here and now—the future investments—with upholding our strong fiscal position, and this Budget does that. That has been reinforced time and time again by the OECD, by the IMF, by Moody’s, and by Standard & Poor’s. They’ve all said that the Government’s books are in good shape: surplus by 2024-25, five years after COVID came along, compared to six years after the global financial crisis for National. Debt is at 19.9 percent, one of the lowest in the world.

Yes, Government spending increased because we helped New Zealanders get through COVID. I sat in this House and heard National Party members say, “Spend more.” Now, they come in today and say, “No, no, no, you shouldn’t have done that.” Let’s be really clear: when they stand up and talk about the fact that the Government shouldn’t be spending this money, they’re saying to New Zealanders, “We wouldn’t have backed you with the wage subsidy scheme.” Now, they did at the time. They said that they wanted it at the time, but now they’re saying they wouldn’t—that is the real meaning of that.

We are bringing Government spending back down, as you would expect, once we get through that period. That requires a disciplined approach and a careful approach, and we have got that balance.

But when I take a step back from this Budget and the work that the Government has been doing over the previous Budgets that I’ve had the honour to present to this House, it is not just the fact that we are providing economic security and that we’re working towards high-wage jobs with low emissions. It is that we are genuinely involved in nation-building—nation-building that happens not only through the assets that we build, the infrastructure that we support, and the people who we develop the skills with but the way that we recognise where New Zealand is today, in 2022. So there is funding in this Budget for Matariki—the fact that we have an indigenous public holiday. There is funding in this Budget to recognise and reconcile from the Dawn Raids. We recognise that when we do well in New Zealand, we build a nation.

I look across the House to see a group of people who, once again, want to divide a nation. They think that tax cuts for those ending more than $180,000 is the way to be able to get a more fair and more equal New Zealand—that is rubbish. We know, on this side of the House, that the way we do that is that we invest in our people. We support those with the least so they can do more. We all have a shared responsibility to look after one another in this country.

I am extremely proud of Budget 2022. It comes at a difficult and tough time for many New Zealanders. What New Zealanders know when they see this, our previous work, and the work to come is that we have their back—we have their back—to make sure that we create a secure future for every single New Zealander.