Andrew Little’s budget response

Labour leader Andrew Little’s response to the delivery of the 2017 budget by Steven Joyce was dissed a bit on Twitter, in part because of it’s content (much like his campaign speech he has been making over the last few months), and in part because he read it off a tablet.

ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That all the words after “That” be omitted and the following substituted: “this House has no confidence in a Government that has had 9 years to build a better New Zealand, and yet we have a housing crisis, we have mental health services on the verge of collapse, we have education that is becoming more and more expensive, and we have infrastructure that is unable to cope with the demands of a surging population, and it is time for fresh thinking and real solutions.

After 9 years—and 4 months out from the next general election—this National Government has suddenly discovered that wages for too many are too low, and it has done nothing about it until now, and even then it has not done much about it. Too many people can no longer afford to buy or even rent a home, and it has done nothing about it. Too many people are squeezed into our big cities, schools are overcrowded, public services are struggling, congestion is choking our cities, and it has done nothing about it. Here was its chance, a chance to show that it takes New Zealanders’ concerns seriously, and it muffed it.

Let me just take you through some of the points that come out of this Budget. Let us look at the tax package, shall we? Let us look at the minimum wage worker. The worker on the minimum wage, working 40 hours a week, who was getting the independent earner tax credit and was getting the tax break that the Government gave them—they got $11 and they got $10 taken off them. They got $11 given to them and $10 taken off them. One dollar. One dollar—there it is. This is the “dollar Bill Budget”—that is what it is.

It gets worse. Even the Government’s own figures that it proudly furnished us all with in the lock-up—the little bit of paper that talks about two low-income workers, both on an income of $33,000 each. They lose their independent earner tax credit, so they lose $20, and the tax benefit for them is less than a dollar each. It is a “less-than-a-dollar Bill Budget”. This is the “dollar Bill Budget”. This is not taking low-income earners seriously at all.

Let us have a look at health. Let us have a look at mental health. The so-called ring-fenced $100 million—that was money that has already been promised and provided to the district health boards (DHBs). Now they are being told that money that they had to spend for general health services they now have got to spend on mental health services, without any expectation of what that is going to go on. This is not fixing up our mental health services. This is a fudge—this is a fudge. The Government does provide for $25 million a year, unspecified, on extra mental health services. It is so woeful in its planning, so woeful in its direction, that it does not even know what it is going to go on. It put it in the Budget. It is so out of touch with New Zealanders’ concerns about mental health right now that it does not even know what needs to happen. And it will not fund it properly.

I have to tell you: the biggest health risk this nation faces today is the amount of fudge being rammed down New Zealanders’ throats that they are expected to take in this Budget. It is not good enough. The Government has funded DHBs for the next financial year and subsequently, more than $200 million less than the DHBs need to keep pace with population growth and demographic changes. It is short-changing and starving our health services yet again, year after year. No wonder they are struggling. It might have double-crewed the ambulances, but it is still the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

In housing: there is nothing of substance to address the most urgent, pressing issue facing the nation today—that is, the shortage of housing. The Government says $100 million for purchasing land for—you know how many houses? For 1,200 houses. Remember the announcement a couple of weeks ago of 34,000 houses? That was still woefully inadequate too. Well, it has provided in this Budget for 1,200 houses. That is going to fix Auckland’s 40,000-house shortage, not to mention the rest of the country’s 20,000- or 25,000-house shortage. This is a rinky-dink, short-changing, “dollar Bill Budget”.

Do not even get me started on the schools operations grant. What an embarrassment. What a disgrace: a 1.3 percent adjustment at a time when inflation in that sector is going through the roof. That is lower than inflation, and the people who will suffer will be the students, their families, and the teachers, who are struggling to provide a high-quality education in this country as it is. New Zealanders deserve better. New Zealanders deserve better.

We are blessed to be in one of the greatest countries in the world and to enjoy unparalleled beauty and a sense of security and freedom to chase our dreams. We pride ourselves, like all New Zealanders, on our hard work, innovation, creative thinking, and our great artistic expression—that is what we are known around the world for—and our brute determination to get stuff done. But that is not the experience of many New Zealanders today. Too many are missing out. And after 9 years of this Government, New Zealanders now are being shut out of things that have been our boast to the world.

You see, there is something else that defines us as a nation, something that holds us to together: it is the idea that our small, plucky nation faces the world to meet its challenges and as we do that we look out for each other, and we insist that no matter the circumstances of our birth, whether in New Zealand or abroad, rich or poor, Māori or Pākehā, we will have the opportunity to fulfil our potential, to do our best, to be the greatest, to do what we can, to do great things, or to do humble things. Knowing all the time that we will be picked up when we fall and we will give back when we have the chance—that is the Kiwi spirit. That is the very essence of being a New Zealander. That is the idea of New Zealand.

Nine years on under this National Government, we ask why we have such a chronic shortage of housing, and many young couples who, no matter how hard they work, no matter how hard they save, cannot get their first home. Nine years on under this National Government a growing number of New Zealanders ask why we have New Zealanders who are homeless in this country, living in overcrowded houses, living in cars and garages. Nine years on under this National Government, New Zealanders ask why the rent is rising so fast and why their pay cannot keep up. Nine years on under this National Government, New Zealanders ask why 60,000 of our fellow citizens could not get hospital treatment last year, because the local hospital could not afford to treat them. We ask why our mental health services are stretched to breaking point and why in this beautiful country of ours we have one of the highest teen suicide rates in the developed world—that is not right. And what is worse is a Government, 9 years on, that does not take it seriously, does not have anything serious to say or do about it. That is shameful.

Nine years on under this National Government, New Zealanders ask why so many schools are overcrowded, and why, with an ageing teacher workforce, so little is being done to grow the next generation of great teachers. Nine years on under this National Government, New Zealanders ask why tens and tens of thousands of young New Zealanders are out of work and not doing any training or are in any education and are fast running out of hope. Nine years on under this National Government, New Zealanders ask why the regions have been neglected, and why they cannot generate jobs to keep the local populations and work.

Today’s Budget is a squandered opportunity. This was an opportunity to do the real social investment, to invest in those things that are the foundation of opportunity and fairness, the foundation of wealth and prosperity for this nation, the foundation of the Kiwi spirit and of the New Zealand idea. No one will say that those on low and middle incomes do not need extra cash at the end of the week—of course they do. They need it now, not next April. But let us not kid ourselves. Remember Working for Families? Remember when that was first introduced? Remember who voted against it? Remember what they called it? So they vehemently opposed it then. It was introduced as a measure to deal with a dysfunctional labour market that was incapable of providing a living wage to many, many New Zealanders. And you know what? Nothing has changed. That remains the case today.

Now, the Government is trying to seek plaudits for funding the significant pay increase for home-care and aged-care workers, and I congratulate Kristine Bartlett and E tū and the predecessor unions and all those who were involved in taking it to court and bringing this Government to justice. That deal happened. And that line item is in this Budget because this Government was ordered by the courts to do so. Make no mistake; this is not generosity and it is not part of some big strategic plan to lift incomes of the lowest-paid New Zealanders. So let us get real.

New Zealand needs a fresh approach. New Zealand needs new ideas. We cannot claim success as a nation nor can we claim we are prosperous when so many are missing out, and when we are setting up a bleak future for the generations that follow. Labour’s plan is very clear.

On housing—we understand. We get that every New Zealander, every family, needs a roof over their head that they can call their own. We need, and Labour will build, affordable homes across Auckland and around New Zealand. We will set up the apparatus. We will develop the workforce. We will deal with the landowners. We will deal with the property developers. We will deal with the councils. We will deal with iwi. We will deal with Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all if we have to, to build affordable homes—100,000 of them. And we will build State houses. Some of them will be for people who, once upon a time, voted for the Māori Party, as well. People will have warm, safe, dry homes, and we will not have 40,000 New Zealanders homeless. That is shameful, and that is a disgrace. Not a single reference—not a single reference—in this Budget to a single solution about that.

On health—we will work to restore the $1.7 billion cuts from health over the last few years. Yes that is a real, and yes that has happened, and yes New Zealanders are suffering as a result. People will again have confidence that they can get good, safe treatment from the local hospital, and that will include getting pharmaceuticals that deal with modern conditions and they are effective. We will fix mental health services. We will have a primary mental health care pilot that will set us up and set generations up and fix our mental health problem. We will have nurses in schools as well, and we will do the workforce development that goes with it, because what matters most is giving our young people a chance, and hope, again.

On education—we will have an education strategy that is about preparing our children for success and having education available throughout a person’s working life, because let us face it the world of work is changing and technology is changing. It is changing what we do and how we do it, and we need an education system that suits. We will lift the funding freeze on schools, and we will make sure that there is a plan for school buildings that we will actually follow through on. We will work with teachers and parents and employers so that we have a school system that is fit for the 21st century and beyond. You see, education is so vital—so vital—for that new world of technology and for new ways of working. We have to get education right, and right now it is floundering, because it has a lack of leadership and a Government that does not care. Labour—Labour—will bring a fresh approach to education.

On the regions—we will partner with the regions, and we will secure new investments that will generate new jobs, good jobs, skilled jobs, better paid jobs, just as we had proposed to do in Dunedin with a centre of digital excellence, just as we had proposed to do in Gisborne with the plant to build prefabricated housing, because it fits our housing strategy as well. Thinking ahead—thinking about the issues that matter to New Zealanders: that is what New Zealanders are looking for. They are looking for a plan. That is what we are going to do.

For our young—it is just plain wrong and just plain shameful that the number of young people not in work, education, or training is growing year by year. We are selling a generation down the drain and I will not have it anymore. This is a top priority for me and for Labour. We will pay employers the equivalent of the dole whenever they take on a new apprentice. We will set up long-term youth unemployed with a 6-month job doing important work in their communities. Accuse me of job creation; I will wear that badge with pride. I want to look after our young.

On infrastructure—we will get our cities moving again, getting freight and people moving, and it will not just be about roads. It will be about rail. It will be about coastal shipping. It will be about all transport modes so we can get the country moving again and get investment that actually makes a difference, and we will partner up with local government to make that difference.

We need a fresh approach. New Zealand needs a fresh approach. New Zealand needs a plan that works, a plan that is about working for those who cannot work at the moment. One thing I can tell you that is absolutely guaranteed is that our party has signed up to Budget responsibility rules. That means planning not just for the next financial year, but for all the years that follow—being responsible about the present and the future. That is what we will bring to it. We will not write out any cheque that cannot be cashed.

This Budget is an election year Budget. That should come as no surprise when you make your finance Minister your campaign manager, too. That is what is in this Budget. That is what is reflected in this Budget. This is about a National Government, 9 years on—out of energy, out of ideas, not knowing what to do, and desperate to convince people that it wants to do something—realising what the real problems are: that it has not listened to New Zealand for too long. On 23 September New Zealanders will have a chance for a fresh approach, for new ideas. They will be voting Labour.

4 Comments

  1. Zedd

     /  May 25, 2017

    good speech.. the tablet was not a great look, but he saved printing it out, wasting paper

    btw; English’s rant gave an interesting response from a Natz MP sitting behind (ms K) whose facial contortions were priceless. would the real PM stand up (JK ?)

  2. Corky

     /  May 25, 2017

    Apparently Andy came nowhere near using up his allotted speaking time…lol. PM Billy English finished him off with a joke that had Tories in fits of laughter. Billy now owns Andy’s mana.

  3. PDB

     /  May 25, 2017

    Little’s speech had a total disconnect with what the budget was offering New Zealanders.

    He mentioned New Zealand needs a ‘fresh approach’ when Labour & the Greens can only provide a ‘fresh out of ideas’ approach.

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