Little versus English on the budget

The first clash of Andrew Little versus Bill English on the budget happened in Question Time in Parliament yesterday. It was rather underwhelming.

2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Did the Minister of Finance tell him that last week’s Budget cut elective surgery funding by $10 million, means the average early childhood centre effectively loses $15,000, and provides new Crown land funding for only 1,200 houses?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): No, the Minister of Finance did not—

Grant Robertson: Oh, he’s misled you?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: —because that is not correct. Not correct. Now that the Labour Party has voted against the Budget, it is trying to find reasons to justify that vote, but I would say to the member that he should stop relying on Grant Robertson’s numbers.

Andrew Little: Is Dr Tim Molloy, president of the College of General Practitioners, right or wrong when he says of this Budget “There’s nothing in it. I’m not surprised—I’m disappointed and seriously underwhelmed.”, and tax cuts will be “completely negated if the cost of healthcare goes up.”?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I am sure that Dr Molloy, if he considered all aspects of the lives of his patients, would actually disagree with himself, because the fact is that a whole lot of his patients will be considerably better off because of the Family Incomes Package, and those with more complex requirements, including the need for health services, will find that a range of initiatives from the increase in spending in health through to the social investment initiatives will aid his patients. So I am sure that Dr Molloy would figure out he is not correct.

Andrew Little: What does he have to say to the people who will not be able to get surgeries or home support services as a result of his Government underfunding district health boards (DHBs) by over $200 million a year in the Budget?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: What I would say to them is that the health services have a very large amount of extra money over the next few years, and that will be allocated by the DHBs where they believe the need is greatest. I would also say to them that they should not take too much notice of Labour’s theoretical calculations about the amount of money, because what matters are results, and this Government will remain strongly focused on getting better results in healthcare.

Jami-Lee Ross: Did the Minister of Finance tell him that last week’s Budget will increase the incomes of 1.3 million families by an average of $26 per week?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes he did, and he told me that 156,000 of the poorest families will gain by an average of $35 per week, and he told me that 750,000 superannuitants will also gain with the couple rate of New Zealander superannuation expected to increase by around $22 per week from 1 April next year. But he has fallen down on one task, and that is properly explaining to the leader of the Labour Party and the finance spokesman of the Labour Party that when they use case studies, they should take into account all the measures the Government has put in place, and not just pick one or two. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Andrew Little: Why, when in 2010 he and his Government cut more than $700 million out of Working for Families, have they, last week, restored only $370 million a year to Working for Families? Why is he continuing to rip working families in New Zealand off?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Labour is getting so desperate it is now defining a cut as a smaller increase than the bigger one that could have happened, and he is now working off figures from 7 years ago. Those families are all significantly better off, and they are better off because this Government did not take the advice of Labour over 6 or 7 years and spray money at everything; we actually looked after the public resources. Now we have surpluses, and now we have some choices.

Jami-Lee Ross: Did the Minister of Finance tell him about any feedback that he has received on the Family Incomes Package?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As a matter of fact, he did—the Minister of Finance being someone who has a real skill for listening to the New Zealand public. He advised me that the package has had widespread support around the country and within the Parliament. The Minister of Finance advised me, somewhat to my surprise, that the Greens had voted for the package—and he advised me that New Zealand First had voted for it—having advised me some time ago that the Greens and Labour had a memorandum of understanding, which indicated that they were communicating closely on all matters. The Minister of Finance advised me that the Greens did not tell Labour—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! We are now getting well past the original part of the question.

Andrew Little: Moving on from the misleading statements of the Minister of Finance, are early childhood education providers—

Hon Maggie Barry: Misleading statements of his own.

Andrew Little: Is that the latecomer talking? Are early—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I know the member was responding to interjections, so I want the interjections from my right to cease while the supplementary question is asked.

Andrew Little: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will maintain decorum. Are early childhood education providers right or wrong when they say this Budget “means the average childcare centre loses $15,000 in real terms.” because per-pupil funding is frozen?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, they are not correct. The early childhood funding has expanded, pretty dramatically actually under this Government, by almost $1 billion. It was around $800 million when we became the Government; it is now over $1.7 billion. Of course some people are going to say that they did not get as much as they wanted, but one of the reasons for that is we wanted to spread the benefits of growth right across the community, particularly to the type of families who the member was trying to quote this morning—the family in West Auckland—when he just happened to leave out, or Grant Robertson just happened to leave out, the fact that they could be eligible for up to $80 per week of accommodation supplement.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact, Prime Minister, that far from being confident about his Budget, he is cutting and running off to Samoa for 4 days—4 days—for its independence day celebrations, which begins on 1 June, not tomorrow, and, therefore, he is not able to and does not want to face accountability in this House?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: It will be—in fact, it is not quite 4 days—longer than that member has spent in the Northland electorate since he became elected. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is it a point of order? [Interruption] Order! I want to hear the point of order in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, he started out and he was going so well until he decided to start telling lies.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. The member asked a very political question; he can expect a very robust answer. Does the Prime Minister wish to complete his answer?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I was just going to point out to the member that I have a lot of relatives in Samoa and it would be rude not to meet them all while I am there.

Andrew Little: Are 500 principals, who wrote an open letter to him, right or wrong when they say that the funding freeze means they cannot afford to pay teacher-aides better without cutting their hours?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: They are wrong in referring to a funding freeze; no such thing has occurred. But I think where we would agree with the principals—if not with the Labour Party—is that it is the way the money is spent and the results we achieve for children that matters more than the Labour Party calculations about how much money it thinks schools could have got. You do not show you care about education just by spending hundreds of millions on it. You show you care by making sure that each child gets the opportunity free education should give them, and that is the opportunity to become a functioning, literate, and numerate citizen.

Andrew Little: What does he say to home buyers who can look forward to house prices rising at three times the rate of wages according to his Budget’s forecasts?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would say to them that there are more houses being built now than there have been for many decades and that, particularly if they are in Auckland, the best thing they can do is tell the Labour Party to stop opposing large developments in Auckland, such as the Three Kings and the Point England development, because they would allow for thousands more houses in Auckland, which would certainly help the price of houses. But Labour insists on opposing the developments there while promising a “castles in the air” housing policy here.

Andrew Little: Why does he think that he knows better than GPs about health, better than principals about schools, and better than young couples about the housing crisis, and can he not see that after 9 years of failing all those people, it is time for a fresh approach, not a shoddy election bribe?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course we do not know more about those specialised professional tasks than the people who carry them out, but some of them have been misled by the Labour Party. This is where the leader of the Labour Party and those groups have something in common. If they are relying on Grant Robertson’s numbers, they will be embarrassed.

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