Opposition floundering after budget

The Opposition has been left floundering after National encroached further into the centre with last weeks budget, which included substantial tax cuts and housing assistance.

Andrew Little in particular has had trouble responding, but the Greens also caused some opposition embarrassment after they voted for the family tax package while Labour opposed it.

Little has tried to criticise small parts of the package, unconvincingly. His first attempt to oppose question Bill English over the budget in Parliament was underwhelming – see Little versus English on the budget.

Vernon Small writes: Opposition all at sea after Joyce’s ‘non-election year’ Budget

The Budget was a lot of things, though a visionary document wasn’t really one of them.

However, before we get too high and mighty about the absence of the “vision thing”, it’s worth bearing in mind what it did achieve – especially with an election looming.

Because it melded income assistance, a billion and a half of tax cuts, a side dish of debt reduction, a 3 per cent growth outlook, a big infrastructure spend and some extra – though probably not enough for many – for stretched public services.

Most spectacularly it seems to have thrown the Opposition – but for Winston Peters’ usual chutzpah – into a counter-productive spin.

Labour leader Andrew Little’s iPad-assisted first speech was a tame and lame affair, which wound up before its allotted time.

See Andrew Little’s budget response.

The Greens managed to undermine the sense of unity they have been so keen to build with Labour, through a Memorandum of Understanding and their Budget Responsibility Rules (BRRs), by voting for the centre-piece of Steven Joyce’s Budget without discussing it with Labour or giving them any prior warning.

This appeared to breech their MoU:

2 (d) We agree to a “no surprises” policy that means we give each other prior notice and the details of major announcements and speeches. This includes matters where we disagree.

3 (b) We support each other’s right to express alternative views, whilst acknowledging our responsibility to discuss our position with each other before public debate.

Small:

The way the parties voted on the incomes package was largely academic, since their speeches made their positions clear. But for powerful symbolic and tactical reasons they simply had to vote the same way.

It was a memorial to misunderstanding and a failure of political management not to get those two simple ducks in a row. And it was a blunder the Government exploited during the Budget debate, and will continue to exploit to exhaustion.

Outside of election the budget is the biggest political event of the year (of any year), so Labour and the Greens should have been prepared for it and how they would deal with it jointly.

At a more fundamental level the Budget’s family income package seemed to put Labour into a quandary.

Little has long stressed Labour’s tax plan was to move on housing and speculation ahead of the election – and part of that was his keynote speech to the party congress earlier in May – while leaving any major changes for consideration by a post-election working group review.

In simple terms, it was an attempt to inoculate the party against any charges that it planned to bring in new and higher taxes to fund its spending plans.

The surplus, debt and fiscal parameters, set up by the BRRs with the Greens, were designed to underpin that message.

And then along came Joyce’s Budget, which seemed to throw Little off course on Tuesday.

In an interview with Susie Ferguson on Radio NZ – that he consistently seems to fluff – he got down into the weeds, discussing small groups who would miss out or get less than others, rather than concentrating on Labour’s main attack theme – that the Budget increased inequality and put far too much into tax cuts and far too little into income support at lower levels.

By that morning’s media stand-up in Parliament he was tighter on message, but then he threw the party’s tax strategy into doubt by failing to rule out other tax increases.

Little has got better at reciting well rehearsed party lines, staying on message and diverting to his messages, but he has not mastered the art of thinking on his feet during interviews.

Whether this is a fundamental inability, or a lack of depth and breadth of knowledge, or a lack of confidence, it is seriously impeding his attempts to look like a credible Prime Minister-in-waiting.

At that point Joyce – he who denied an election-year motive in his Budget – and Bill English must have steepled their fingers and reclined their office chairs with satisfied smiles. They had all the ammunition they wanted to paint a picture of a divided Opposition with a waffly stance on tax.

Labour has the opportunity to right the ship in the next few weeks, when it releases its own families package-cum-alternative Budget.

It will have to be a thorough, well thought through policy response, expressed clearly. Little will need to improve markedly, especially in being prepared to respond to the inevitable questions and examination of the policy.

A stream of frontbenchers for Labour have criticised the accommodation supplement as evidence of the Government’s failed housing policy, but they are likely to wave that through.

Their attacks on the Working for Families element suggest they will proffer a big lift there.

But it is not just a case of unwinding and redistributing the $2 billion of tax threshold changes.

The party has already committed to increasing paid parental leave, more police, the early resumption of payments to the Cullen superannuation fund and three years of fee-free tertiary study at a cost of $1.2 billion by 2025. (There is some more cash available from Labour’s slower debt repayment plan, but that is further down the track.)

Labour have so far avoided specifics in policies that will cost a lot of money, to an extent understandably prior to knowing what would be in the budget.

Ideally they would have been prepared for a quick and comprehensive counter to the budget. Instead they seem to have been woefully unprepared.

Now Labour will have to hope the budget tax, housing and benefit package doesn’t grow on voters as something worthwhile for many to expect.

They will have to come up with a credible alternative that attracts support, and one that is extremely thorough because it is certain that it will be examined and critiqued minutely.

And Little and Grant Robertson will have to be very well prepared to answer and explain thoroughly and clear and unambiguously.

Selling their key policy against a fairly well received budget will be a real test of their abilities and capabilities. It will be much more difficult for them than sniping at government policies and plans.

Labour in particular have given the impression they have been left floundering “all at sea” by the budget. They have a big challenge to be seen to be on firm fiscal footing.

Shaw versus English on the budget

James Shaw had his first confrontation with Bill English since the budget in Parliament yesterday.

3. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his Government’s decisions?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes, especially the Family Incomes Package in the 2017 Budget, which provides around $2 billion to support family incomes. It will benefit around 1.3 million families by an average of $26 a week. I am pleased to see that the member supports this decision, because it will help so many low and middle income earners with young families, and it is impressive that the Greens thought supporting those families was more important than supporting a dysfunctional and flailing Labour Party.

James Shaw: Does he stand by his Government’s decision in last week’s Budget to cut funding for rheumatic fever prevention when rheumatic fever rates are rising?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would have to check the details about the actual funding for rheumatic fever, but I can tell the member this: this Government set up the rheumatic fever scheme, with, I think, $60 million at the time. It has been innovative, it has had a significant effect on rheumatic fever rates, and the lessons from that have been applied to the new Better Public Services result around reducing hospital admissions for children for preventable conditions. So essentially we are taking the rheumatic fever scheme and applying it on a much wider basis, so that we can have more healthy children, and fewer of them going to hospital.

James Shaw: Does he stand by his Government’s decision in last week’s Budget to stop insulating homes at the end of this year?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: A law has been passed precisely to make sure that all homes are insulated where that is reasonably possible—

Phil Twyford: No—rental properties.

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: . —all rental homes. I cannot help feeling that the Greens are running into the same trap as the Labour Party, and that is that now that those members have decided to vote against the Government on the confidence motion, they are trying to find reasons for that vote.

James Shaw: Can he confirm that the law that he just referred to—the change in the insulation standards that the Government introduced in 2016—is based on 1978 levels, will not come into effect for another 2 years, is lower than the current building code, and is lower than officials recommend for a healthy home?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I cannot confirm any of those things.

James Shaw: Has he seen reports that there are still 600,000 homes in this country with poor thermal performance, which are cold and damp in winter, and which make the people who live in them sick?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen all sorts of reports about the state of our housing stock. That is one of the reasons why the Government has legislated in the way that we have just described, and it is also a reason why we have now put in place for the first time systems for dealing with children, in particular, who show up in hospitals with diseases that may be related to the poor state of the house that they are in. The good news is that more new houses are being built than ever, the State housing stock has been significantly improved since this Government came into office, and the standard of houses in New Zealand is rising.

James Shaw: Does he agree with Otago University professor Philippa Howden-Chapman that home insulation is “a very, very good investment”; if so, why is he not funding it under his social investment programme?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member may be aware, the Government has spent hundreds of millions on subsidising the insulation of homes, and has come to the view that the best thing from here is to make it a requirement for all those who do own rental homes to insulate them. It seems to me, in the same way we do not spend money subsidising the spouting or hanging doors in homes, that that should be an integral part of the standard of the home.

James Shaw: If a 6:1 benefit-cost ratio to tackle a problem that puts kids in hospital 40,000 times and kills more people than the road toll every year does not meet the criteria to be considered a good social investment, what does?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are lots of proposals that meet the criteria for sound social investment, but, as I have already explained to the member, because of the significance of insulation, we have legislated to require insulation to a specific level in all rental homes.

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.

Green position on the budget

There has been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the Green Party position on the budget delivered last week, after Greens voted for the tax package in the budget, and also for the settlement on the pay equity case.

Co-leader James Shaw tries to clarify: Our position on National’s 2017 Budget

A number of people were left with the impression that the Greens had voted for “the Budget”. This is incorrect. The Green Party did not – and will not – vote for “the Budget”.

The Budget is what allows National to govern. If National failed to pass the Budget, all its legal ability to tax and spend would dry up and the Government would fall apart. There is no way we would vote for the Budget, because that would be supporting the National Government and its agenda.

Budget time often brings other legislation too, which gets debated under urgency. This year, there were two such Bills:

  • The first was a Bill giving effect to the settlement of the high-profile gender pay equity case for people in the caring profession, brought by Kristine Bartlett.
  • The second was a Bill changing Working for Families and income tax thresholds.

We voted in favour of both of these.

We voted for the pay equity Bill because, well, we believe in pay equity. The Bill the Government introduced is far from perfect. But it has been a long time coming and it fits comfortably within our Green Party policy and our values.

The Working for Families legislation was also far from perfect. But we voted for it because, imperfect as those changes are, they will make a positive difference for some people. We had to make this decision quickly, but we did not do so lightly.

Ending child poverty in New Zealand has consistently been one of the Green Party’s top priorities for many years now. The Government’s Bill is not the transformative income support and tax package that a Green Government would put in place (we’re working on that – watch this space).

But the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that National’s changes to the Family Tax Credit will bring between 35,000 and 50,000 children out of poverty. We asked ourselves if we could in good conscience oppose something that would help up to 50,000 kids, and on balance, we decided that we couldn’t.

In the Budget two years ago, National raised benefits by $25 a week. Both the Greens and Labour supported that, even though we both knew that not all families would get the full $25, and even for those who did, we knew it wouldn’t be enough.

But it was something – and so, last week, we made a similar call to vote for a package of measures that will mean that New Zealand’s hardest up families get even a little more.

Our friends and colleagues in the Labour Party made a different call last week. That’s quite common.

Since the last election, we’ve often voted differently from Labour. On 68 occasions, Labour has supported National while we have opposed National. And on 11 occasions, we have supported National while Labour has opposed.

We’re different political parties, after all. When MMP arrived a little over 20 years ago, many of us hoped it would lead to a more pluralistic Parliament, where political parties came together in different formations around the merits of any given policy proposal.

About 40 Bills have passed unanimously since the last election with the support of all political parties. A lot of what Parliament does is relatively uncontroversial.

On this occasion, we’ve talked it through with Labour.

There have been reports that Labour was blind sided by the Greens voting with the Government.

They understand why we supported National’s tax and Working for Families Bill and we understand why they opposed it.

Does anyone else understand? There has been a lot of confusion and discussion.

Those talks began on Budget day itself, when Opposition parties go into a small room together and have an hour with the Budget books before everything becomes public at 2pm.

It’s been a year this week since we signed the MOU with Labour. The MOU is an agreement to change the Government – not to always do everything the same way as each other.

We’re looking forward now to the election, and to this time next year when a new Finance Minister will deliver an entirely new kind of Budget that puts people and the planet first.

We might even replace the Budget’s traditional blue cover with a nice shade of green.

We? Would Labour go with shade of green budget?

Would NZ First go with a shade of green budget?

Is Shaw hinting at (or wishing for) a shade of green finance minister?

Single child tax?

Labour (Andrew Little) has claimed Single Child Tax hidden in Budget

Buried in National’s so-called family Budget is a Single Child Tax that will hit medium to low income families, says Labour Leader Andrew Little.

“National’s Single Child Tax will see a family with one child lose as much as $830 a year in Working For Families payments.

But there is no ‘single child tax’. Labour seem to have found that in some situations (dependant on income and number of children) some people won’t benefit as much from tax changes in the budget as others.

It seems very dumb calling not as much of a reduction on tax as a tax.

David Farrar at Kiwiblog: Labour now calls an increase a cut as someone got a bigger increase

So actually they are around $750 a year better off. Claiming they are worse off is like claiming that if you win $800 in Lotto and someone wins $1,000 in Lotto you are $800 worse off.

Stuff: Govt’s income package leaves 20,000 families with one child worse off: Labour

Leader Andrew Little is calling it the “single child tax”, and says it’s the consequence of a more aggressive abatement rate that the Government also introduced to ensure the package was targeted to those who needed it most.

But it had failed to look after a large chunk of low to middle-income families, he said.

While those families would still see a net positive gain to their weekly pay packet, ones with a single child would get a smaller piece of the pie.

So Labour’s complaints are misleading and stupid. Do they think that everyone should get the exact same net positive gain (less tax taken off them)? Except rich people.

“Whenever you’re putting these packages together, there’s always a complexity about it. But I’d be surprised if they understood there’s 20,000 odd single-child families that will now be worse off – but that’s the reality. “

Joyce said those families still saw an overall gain, and Labour was failing to see the bigger picture.

“The abatement changes mean they don’t get as much from the Working for Families part of the package, but they gain more from other parts of the package, in particular the tax changes. They may also in some cases gain from the Accommodation Supplement Changes.

Farrar claims:

They are $15 a week better off as a minimum and if they get accommodation supplement may be up to $115 a week better off.

The Standard pushes the Labour line in Family package that punishes families but does include :

While those families would still see a net positive gain to their weekly pay packet, ones with a single child would get a smaller piece of the pie.

It’s notable that that post got very few comments – perhaps deflated by ‘JamieB’:

From reading the headline and first couple of paragraphs I was under the impression this was a demographic that would have their incomes reduced from the changes.

But then “While those families would still see a net positive gain to their weekly pay packet, ones with a single child would get a smaller piece of the pie.”

So they’re not actually worse off, and Labour and this opinion post are really grasping at straws to find an actual problem with this budget.

Labour have handled their budget reaction quite poorly.

It will be interesting to see if Little or Grant Robertson try to push this in Question Time today.

Debate over Green’s budget support

Greens voting in support of the Government’s budget tax package has raised eyebrows and prompted debate at The Standard.

Micksavage: What the feck Greens

The Green Party caucus decision to support the Government’s tax reduction legislation is hard to comprehend and has created a perception of messiness in the way the Labour-Green MOU operates.

It appears the Labour Green Memorandum of Understanding did not work as well this week as it was intended.  The Greens decided to vote for National’s tax reduction legislation while Labour voted against it.

I am struggling to understand why the Greens did this.  This budget does nothing beneficial for the environment.  It promises more irrigation allowing more dairying and more polluted streams with a miniscule amount set aside to address the consequences.  It does not address New Zealand’s response to climate change.  Putting to one side the environmental devastation that will be caused it does not address how we as a country are going to address the $14 billion hole in our finances that the payments required under the Paris Accord will cause.  And the home insulation scheme is being cut, completely.

But they chose to support the Government’s tax reduction law.

There are some interesting discussions on that thread. It seems to have prompted two posts from a Green supporter.

Weka: The Greens on record

Despite rumours to the contrary, the Green Party was highly critical of National’s Budget.

There’s been a fair amount of speculation about the Green Party’s position on the Budget. If you want to see how they are voting, or to discuss that, have a look at the post The Greens and voting on the Budget.

There are a lot more links to Green responses too.

Weka: The Greens and voting on the Budget

Wondering about what the Greens are voting for? It might not be what you think.

The various Bills going through Parliament currently can be seen here. Explanations of how the Budget process happens are here.

Spokesperson for Māori Development, Social Housing, Human Rights and Pacific Peoples, Marama Davidson explains in a blogpost why they are voting for that Bill that gives a little bit extra for those on low incomes.

But that has sparked more debate.

Meanwwhile Martyn Bradbury at The Daily Blog: Can the Green Party of NZ do anything without taking a huge smelly dump on the chest of the Labour Party?

The Greens have allowed themselves to get played by the National Party who are right now running around telling everyone who will listen that even the Greens support this rip-off Budget, bloody Bill English did yesterday!

I wonder if Bradbury applied for a job at Greens, he certainly isn’t happy with the person who was successful (at getting a communications job).

My understanding from sources within the Party is that there are deep divisions over how James Shaw has run things since becoming leader.

I doubt that Greens and many others will put much weight on Bradbury’s understanding.

Serious question time, if these schoolboy errors in political tactics and strategy are all the Greens can muster how the Christ can they be trusted with Executive Power?

It’s a bit tragic that, similar to Cameron Slater, Bradbury has been left flailing around without a political home because no parties want anything to do with them.

But there does seem to be quite a bit of discord on the left over the Green vote last week and over the Green-Labour Memorandum of Understanding.

Labour pulled out of budget discussion

Labour were scheduled to discuss the budget on The Nation this morning but withdrew.

@TheNation confirmed “they agreed to an interview early in the week but pulled out yesterday morning”.

It at least seems odd.

Grant Robertson on the budget

 

Labour’s finance spokesperson Grant Robertson keeps his criticism up of Thursday’s budget. I guess he couldn’t praise it, but if he disses it too much he risks being seen as too negative.

He has promoted this Radio NZ interview:

And from the Labour website:

Nats’ budget a double-crewed ambulance parked at the bottom of the cliff

National’s election year Budget shows that there’s no coincidence Finance Minister Steven Joyce doubles as National’s campaign manager, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.

“The 2017 Budget reveals a lack of vision, and is simply an election year budget with an eye for September 23, not the 21st Century.

“It’s irresponsible to dangle tax cuts that actually benefit the wealthiest more than low-income New Zealanders, instead of investing in the social foundations that are critical to our country’s future.

“The people who gain the most from the tax changes are people like Steven Joyce and me who earn far more than the average wage.

“The richest families get $35 a week from the Budget bribe, the poorest get $5 a week. Someone on the average wage gets $11 a week, and around 800,000 New Zealanders on taxable incomes below $14,000 get nothing.

“Steven Joyce has failed to deliver a plan to fix the housing crisis, build affordable homes for first home buyers, end homelessness, or fund our hospitals and schools properly.

“The big spending from the Government comes in the form of nearly $800 million for prisons. This is actually a sad indictment of National’s failure to invest in New Zealand.

“We would not have to build billion dollar prisons if the Government would adequately invest in early childhood education, get better support to help our vulnerable children, and provide mental health services to New Zealanders before their problems overwhelm them.

“The Government has said they want to double crew ambulances, but when it comes to social services, sadly those ambulances are still parked at the bottom of the cliff.

“Labour has different priorities to National. We will fund our health system properly to meet the needs of a growing population. We will build houses for first home buyers that they can afford, and invest in education instead of building prisons. This Budget offers nothing new. It’s time for a fresh approach,” says Grant Robertson.

The real costs of National’s election bribe

The cost of National’s poorly-targeted election year budget bribe is that there’s nothing to fix the housing crisis, health funding is cut, and funding for schools is cut, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.

It’s no coincidence that Robertson targets the three election issues that Labour has chosen to focus their campaign on.

“As the dust begins to settle on the Government’s massive PR exercise, it’s becoming clearer than ever that National has no plan for New Zealand’s future.

“The reality is that $5 of every $7 in National’s package is poorly-directed through the tax cuts. Labour can’t support an approach that perpetuates inequality.

“Around 800,000 New Zealanders on taxable incomes below $14,000 get nothing from this. The 500,000 low income workers currently getting the Independent Earners’ Tax Credit lose that $10 a week, and are left with just an extra dollar a week.

“National’s answer to the housing crisis is building only one new affordable house for every 100 new Aucklanders. They’ve funded just 1200 houses in this Budget.

“Health gets $439 million when it needed $650 million simply to keep up with a growing and ageing population, as well as inflation. This adds further to the existing $1.7 billion of underfunding over the past six years.

“School operational grants needed $140 million to keep up with roll pressures and inflation, but they got $60 million – a shortfall of $80 million.

“And once again, National is refusing to restart contributions to the NZ Superannuation Fund. National is selling out this country’s future for a cynical election-year bribe.

“But the real winners in the tax cuts are those like the Finance Minister and Prime Minister, who will gain 20 times what a single person working fulltime on the minimum wage gets.

“That’s simply not fair. Under nine years of National the gaps between rich and poor have only grown wider. Labour has the fresh ideas to ensure all New Zealanders get a fair share of prosperity,” says Grant Robertson.

The problem with this criticism is that Labour doesn’t have an alternative to suggest, they don’t have a new tax policy, apart from reviewing tax if they become government.

Greens, NZ First back budget tax plan

Labour has voted against the budget tax plan, but their supposed partner Greens along with NZ First have backed it.

Stuff: Labour and Greens split over Budget tax cuts despite joint ‘fiscal responsibility’ deal

The Budget tax cut plan has split the Opposition, with Labour voting against the changes and the Greens and NZ First voting in favour.

From April 2018, the moves, which lift the bottom two tax thresholds, will give $10.70 a week to those earning more than $22,000, and $20.38 to those on more than $52,000 a year.

But the simultaneous axing of a $10 a week credit for low earners with no dependents means some will only be better off by only $1 a week – leading Labour leader Andrew Little to dub it the “dollar Bill Budget”.

Speaking after a Grant Thornton post-Budget breakfast in Wellington, he said the Greens, who were voting in favour of the tax threshold changes, were an independent party and could do what they wanted.

Of course they can – but if they do the opposite to Labour on a budget vote their joint approach to campaigning and ‘fiscal responsibility’ it looks a bit awry.

He said not too much should be read into the fact the two parties were voting in opposite ways on the tax package.

“They’ve made their political judgment on the basis of this Budget at this time. But both our parties have pretty clear agreement about the level of discipline required in fiscal management if we have the privilege of forming a government.”

Labour took a different view on whether the package was well targeted and well prioritised.

“If we have the privilege of forming government there is a level of jointness in our platforms – and we make those decisions more jointly and in a more connected way than we do when we are two parties in opposition, albeit working closely together,” he said.

“You can vote different ways and that (BRRs) document retains its integrity.”

Yeah, right.

Burt the Greens are for and against the changes.

Marama Davidson: Small change that is sorely needed

The big headline of the Government’s Budget yesterday was its Family Incomes Package – a range of measures including changes to income tax thresholds and the Family Tax Credit.

Overall the Budget is a huge disappointment and a missed opportunity to make real progress on pressing social and environmental issues. We want more support for those who need it most, and we want that sooner than National.  To make that a reality, we need to change the Government.

But right now, we are debating National’s family package in Parliament. The Green Party is supporting these changes, not because they’re perfect – far from it – but because we want families to get more support and we strongly believe it is not our role to deny those families that.

With these changes, the Government has turned on the tap that has been long denied to communities for some desperately needed relief. But it’s only a tiny drop. For our lowest income families, these changes are a trickle, and in the words of the Child Poverty Action Group, what is actually needed is a tide.

Five dollars extra is pittance for people on lower incomes, but things are so tough that sadly $5 makes a meaningful difference for too many people’s lives. We should not be proud of that. Some families have become so used to scraping a meal together on so little, that five extra dollars is actually a big deal.

That’s why we are not going to stand in the way of families getting more money where it is sorely needed.

But we are introducing two changes to this Bill to try to make it fairer. The first brings the start date forward, so that the increase to the Family Tax Credit would start on the 1st of July, rather than waiting until 1st April 2018. Making children who are cold, hungry and sick wait another year for relief is negligent.

The second change increases the income threshold which the tax credit is abated from $35,000 to $50,000 and lowers the abatement rate from 25cents to 5 cents.

Lowering the abatement rate will means family that are earning under $50,000 will get to keep much more of this money.

There’s no doubt that it’s a cynical election year budget designed to keep National in Government rather than solve the huge challenges this country faces.

We urgently need to invest more money in housing, education, health and mental health and the environment. In order to make that a reality we need to change the Government – nothing we say will convince National to make those bold choices.

But right now we live among communities where we hear, on a daily basis, the stories of heartbreak that are harming families and children.

While we won’t stand in the way of the tax cuts for the lowest incomes, the Greens will keep working for the real changes that are needed to ensure all everyone has what they need to live; good lives, warm secure healthy homes, enough healthy kai and enough to pay the bills.

That is the leadership that our people want and deserve.

Budget reactions

Opposition parties have been left floundering after the budget delivers a bit for most people, and quite as lot for many families.

Labour have predictably criticised the budget but have not said whether they would leave the tax changes in place if they take over government later in the year.

Dene Mackenzie: Nearly everyone wins

National has done its best to buy Labour out of the September 23 election by delivering a Budget which has something for nearly everyone.

Those to benefit from this Budget stretch from students, to couples with children, low-income earners in Queenstown, every taxpayer through to pensioners.

Increased spending, much more than expected, left only New Zealand First leader Winston Peters sounding  enraged about the state of the nation.

Labour leader Andrew Little issued a one-page press release, which could have been read as a white flag of surrender, and Green Party co-leader James Shaw spent his entire speech talking about a lot of what-ifs and calling for a change in government.

The Government is not likely to change unless Labour and the Greens can provide some sort of counter to the growing economic strength of the country’s finances which allowed Finance Minister Steven Joyce to use his first Budget to spend up large in the areas that count: lifting incomes by changing tax thresholds, increasing Working for Family entitlements, increasing accommodation allowances and providing extra spending on health.

Importantly for voters in Auckland and Wellington, large amounts of money will be spent on ailing infrastructure including the Wellington commuter rail link.

RNZ: Budget boost only a ‘slight change’ for the struggling

A single mother on a minimum wage who lives in a state house in Auckland says changes announced in yesterday’s budget would only make a small difference to her life.

A full-time glasshouse worker, she pockets about $560 a week and pays $149 rent to Housing NZ.

Under changes to the tax threshold and Working for Families in the new Budget, she worked out she would bring home an extra $28.50 a week, $1,480 a year.

That sounds like a quite significant increase for someone on that level of earning, with a very low rent for Auckland.

Budgets can’t be lotto for everyone.

Brian Fallow (NZH): The better than nothing Budget

It is the better than nothing Budget. Steven Joyce has hardly thrown fiscal caution to the winds.

Neither should he, what an odd comment.

It would have been intolerable for the Government to crow about how well the economy is doing and project ever fatter surpluses and falling debt to GDP ratios while doing nothing about the pressure on the finances of lower- and middle-income families.

Both the increases to the income tax thresholds and the changes to Working for Families tax credits are overdue.

Liam Dann (NZH): Budget a ‘healthy’ lolly scramble

It maintained the “no surprises, steady as she goes” strategy that we’ve seen for the past eight years even as it delivered a few wholesome treats and rewards to the electorate.

The risk, of course, is that this kind of centrist approach will get little love from either side of the political spectrum.

But Prime Minister Bill English and Finance Minister Steven Joyce aren’t the kind of parents to risk over exciting the kids with a mad sugar rush. They promised nothing radical and they delivered it.

Critics will talk about election-year bribes but the narrative from National will be that we did the hard yards, we’ve built a surplus and now we get to invest back into the economy.

Audrey Young (NZH) Audrey Young: Budget has something for everyone

Starting at the low end means everyone gets something.

It is an election year Budget because almost every household gets something.

Some of the increases are huge especially in the accommodation supplement.

That reflects the biggest failure of the Government, in failing to control housing cost.

This Budget puts far greater weight on infrastructure spending than previous ones, although that was foreshadowed in December when Bill English was still Finance Minister.

Stuff: $20 extra for students ‘reasonable’

Laura Robinson says the $20 bump to the student accommodation benefit is good news for those who qualify.

Stuff: Budget a mixed bag

Budget 2017 has no major tax shake-up for average Manawatu families.

stuff: Budget will ‘cost Kiwi lives’

Patients and healthcare workers complain that Budget 2017 has left them frustrated and disappointed.

Max Rushbrooke (Stuff): A Government trying to make up for past neglect

In today’s Budget the Government seems to be playing the role of a parent who, after years of providing minimal support, turns up at their child’s birthday party bearing presents and hoping to be showered with praise.

There is, admittedly, much to commend in the Budget, for what it does to support New Zealanders and to increase fairness: the $321 million package for “social investment”, focused on mental health; the major boost to Working for Families that will raise payments by up to $26 a week per child; the lift in the accommodation supplement that gives low-income people $25-$75 extra a week to offset housing costs; and so on.

And the Government did last year increase benefits for those with children by $25 a week.

But this has to be set against the overall neglect of past years.

‘Neglect’ when the country was recovering from an internal financial downturn and a major international financial crisis, earthquakes and large deficits.

The Press editorial: Budget is an election-year cake with cream filling, frosted icing and a cherry on top

The package is many-pronged, reducing income tax thresholds for the lower paid, changing Working for Families tax credits for people with children, and boosting the accommodation supplement.

Perhaps the more significant longer-term measures are those aimed at future-proofing the economy, especially those to reduce the level of Crown debt and replenish the National Disaster Fund.

Joyce’s Budget is built on the promise of a strong and consistently performing future economy, but these measures at least will provide future governments with some wriggle room when the next natural disaster or global financial crisis hits.