Government to drip feed health underfunding stories pre-budget

Former Health Minister Jonathan has finally spoken about what he knew about the building problems at Middlemore Hospital that seem to have suddenly emerged.

RNZ: Coleman says documents show he didn’t know about hospital rot

RNZ has been reporting on hospital buildings at Middlemore Hospital that are full of rot and potentially dangerous mould. There’s also asbestos present and raw sewage leaking into the walls.

Earlier today, National Party leader Simon Bridges told Morning Report Dr Coleman did not know about Middlemore’s building problems.

In a blog post this afternoon Dr Coleman said he had been reviewing a couple of “very pertinent” documents.

“It’s just not credible to say that Middlemore Building problems were widely known about and I would have known,” he wrote.

This claim that was made in late March to Morning Report by former Counties Manukau District Health Board chair Lee Mathias.

“Most people in Wellington knew of the situation Middlemore was in,” she said then.

She also said the state of the buildings was covered in board minutes that were publicly available. However, the DHB has blocked the release of these minutes to RNZ under the Official Information Act.

More withholding of information under the OIA.

But the Government seems intent on not withholding information about health underfunding heading into next month’s budget.

RNZ:  PM hints of further public underfunding revelations

The government is going to drip feed stories of public sector underfunding by the previous government in the run-up to next month’s Budget, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated.

Ms Ardern is playing down expectations of a big spending budget next month saying her government did not realise how bad the under-investment in public services had been under National.

She said it was now clear National put budget surpluses ahead of the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and chronically short-changed public services.

“I’ve always said that from the beginning we thought it would be bad, we didn’t know it would be this bad.

“And the public is seeing just a snapshot of it now, the state of Middlemore Hospital I think is emblematic of what we’re seeing across the board.”

I get the feeling that the public were played during the election campaign, and are being played by politicians now – with DHBs possibly complicit.

Ardern:

“What we are flagging is that as we’ve gone through this process we’ve uncovered things we didn’t expect. We want to build more transparency around that as we lead up to Budget day.

“As ministers we have been engaging in this conversation for some time, we’ve decided it’s one we should be having with the public too.”

The public could have done with factual information on health and hospital funding long ago. This sort of waffle in an apparent attempt to manage pre-budget PR is crap. If Ardern has information she should just present it all now.  Instead she seems to be intent on playing a risky game. Not all information that is drip fed could look good for Labour.

So why did the Middlemore building story just start to emerge now? It sounds too serious and important to be used as political misinformation.

Health funding ‘crisis’

Health spending has always been under pressure.Is it now a crisis? ‘Crisis’ suggests an unusually critical situation, but health under funding has long been an ailment.

Health care has increased substantially over the last half century, but so have the costs. Drugs and technology have improved and cost a lot more, and a growing and ageing population puts further pressures on budgets.

What the Government does on health in next month’s budget will be interesting. More money is likely (the previous government kept spending more) but it is unlikely to be enough.

The prime Minister and the Minister of health have both been sending out signals that spending may be compromised. They are claiming health ‘underfunding’ is worse than they thought.

Dave Armstrong has some details in Toss a healthy bit of funding at DHBs and voters will turn a blind eye to almost anything

I’m not sure about that, health doesn’t seem to play an obviously significant part in elections.

It has also been revealed that necessary spending on infrastructure has been delayed by a number of district health boards because they were under such pressure from the previous government to show an operating surplus

That’s why buildings at Middlemore Hospital with toxic mould and sewage leaks behind asbestos walls will need $123 million to be repaired. It seems that the mantra of the last government regarding health infrastructure was ‘a stitch in time causes an operating deficit that looks bad so please don’t ask for money or there’ll be trouble’.

Middlemore is just one example. The Clinical Services block at Dunedin Public Hospital has had leaking and asbestos problems for years. A replacement hospital in Dunedin has been delayed, and now it is over to the new government to try to keep an election promise.

Even though the Labour Party pledged $8 billion to health during the election campaign, Health Minister David Clark thinks that won’t be enough. It is estimated that $14 billion will be needed over the next 10 years for infrastructure alone.

Jacinda Ardern has found health finances are even worse than she expected. She identified $10 billion worth of capital expenditure needed whereas the previous government set aside just $600 million.

I don’t think it is unusual for incoming governments to discover costs that they hadn’t taken into account when making election promises.

The previous National government would rightly argue that it spent billions on health. Spending increased under its watch, but was it enough to meet rising demand? With failing infrastructure and frustrated salary workers who haven’t had a raise of ages, I would say no.

Despite disingenuous claims by Labour health funding kept increasing under the National government. But health funding is never enough.

So what’s the solution? Ask most health professionals and they would suggest a substantial investment in infrastructure and pay rises for hospital staff, especially nurses and those at the bottom. But given about 60 per cent of health expenditure is for salaried staff, that is a considerable cost.

Nurses are currently negotiating for wage increases, and are threatening to go on strike.

And that is the problem for this Government. They may want nurses and others to be paid fairly, but where is the money coming from? During the election campaign, Ardern and Grant Robertson were at pains to point out they wouldn’t touch the corporate tax rate or John Key’s 2008 tax cuts for the wealthy.

This reticence to change the wealth distribution might have helped them get elected but now they either have to find the money elsewhere or disappoint underpaid nurses, many of whom would have voted for them.

So that’s the unenviable health dilemma that this Government faces over the next three years.

The immediate dilemma is the budget currently being finalised. We will find out how much of a boost health funding will get next month.  The only certainty is that it won’t be enough.

US to cut UN funding

The timing of an announcement that the US has negotiated to cut United Nations funding may be cynical and playing to a domestic audience given it closely follows threats by President Donald Trump that failed to avoid scant US support in a UN vote over Jerusalem, but there could be some justification for trying to reduce the bloat.

AP Press: US says it negotiated $285M cut in United Nations budget

The U.S. government says it has negotiated a significant cut in the United Nations budget.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said on Sunday that the U.N.’s 2018-2019 budget would be slashed by over $285 million. The mission said reductions would also be made to the U.N.’s management and support functions.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that the “inefficiency and overspending” of the organization is well-known, and she would not let “the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of.”

She also said that while the mission was pleased with the results of budget negotiations, it would continue to “look at ways to increase the U.N.’s efficiency? while protecting our interests.”

There could be a fine line between reducing inefficiency and overspending, and trying to financially coerce favourable outcomes (or avoid unfavourable outcomes).

The timing of the announcement seems cynical, and suspiciously like an attempt to publicly reprimand.

There may be an aspect of re-prioritising US spending as well, on RCP immediately after the above item is this: Trump administration set to unveil $1 trillion infrastructure proposal in 2018

During the 2016 campaign, Trump first promised to deliver a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to improve the condition of U.S. roads, bridges, airports, and other public works.

Although the administration is working to address the nation’s infrastructure, several major question marks hang over the plan, such as funding.

“The cost is going to be an issue, that’s going to be a large topic of debate,” a senior committee aide told the Washington Examiner.

Saving $285 million on UN spending won’t go far towards that. Neither will the tax cuts that have just been decided on.

NY Post: Nikki Haley negotiates $285M cut in ‘bloated’ UN budget

Haley added that the “historic reduction” in spending is a step in the right direction and that the US would make many other moves toward a more efficient and accountable UN.

“In addition to these significant cost savings, we reduced the UN’s bloated management and support functions, bolstered support for key US priorities throughout the world and instilled more discipline and accountability throughout the UN system,” the statement said.

The new deal for the 2018-2019 fiscal year is $285 million less than the world body’s staggering $5.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2016-2017.

A ‘more accountable UN’ has an ominous ring to it. If the US genuinely wants to make the UN more accountable then it should campaign to remove the veto power of five nations on the Security Council.

“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out in this assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation,” Haley told member nations ahead of their vote.

That was contrary to international law.

“We will remember it when, once again, we are called up to make the world’s largest contribution to the UN, and we will remember it when many countries come calling on us to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Announcing a budget cut just after making a statement like that could be seen as cynical.

 

Interim budget – families package

The Government released it’s interim budget today, which mostly confirmed what was already known, with a few numbers thrown in.

Budget update – fairness and prosperity

The Government is delivering on its commitment to manage New Zealand’s finances responsibly while ensuring the dividends of economic growth are more fairly shared.

We promised we would be a Government of change. The Government has made a clear choice to put the wellbeing of all New Zealanders firmly at the heart of what we do.

The Budget Policy Statement and our 100-Day Plan announcements are proof that this Government will be different, one that will lead the country in a new, positive and inclusive direction.

 

Budget update press releases:

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern  – Prime Minister

The Government is delivering on its commitment to manage New Zealand’s finances responsibly while ensuring the dividends of economic growth are more fairly shared, says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“We promised we would be a Government of change. Together with our coalition partner, New Zealand First and our confidence and supply partner, the Green Party, we have made a clear choice to put the wellbeing of all New Zealanders firmly at the heart of what we do.

“Today’s Budget Policy Statement and our 100-Day Plan announcements are proof that the Government I lead will be different, one that will lead the country in a new, positive and inclusive direction.

“It will be a Government that makes reducing child poverty and inequality a priority. That is why we are moving with urgency to introduce legislation for the Families Package. This delivers on one of the key promises of our 100-Day Plan, alongside running balanced Budgets and paying down debt.

“We can pay for the Families Package and our fees-free policy for post-secondary education by cancelling National’s tax cuts.

“The Families Package will provide a significant boost to the incomes of low- and middle-income families. No family will be worse off than they are today, and most families with children will be better off.

When fully rolled out in 2020/21, 384,000 families with children will be better off by an average of $75 a week, with many lower-income families receiving more.

“We know working families struggle at times to provide the very best for their children. The early years of a child’s life are critically important to their long-term wellbeing and development.

“The Families Package is projected to lift 88,000 children out of poverty by 2020/21* – a 48 per cent reduction in the number of children living in poverty compared to the status quo. That’s 39,000 more children lifted out of poverty than under the previous National Government’s package.

“The Families Package includes a targeted boost to Working for Families, giving more money to low- and middle-income families with children, and increasing the number of families who will be eligible for support.

“The money saved from reversing National’s tax cuts also allows us to invest in Best Start as part of the Families Package. Every child deserves the best start in life; our policy will provide an income boost for all families with newborns.

“The Families Package includes the Winter Energy Payment, providing a welcome support to one million superannuitants and beneficiaries who face big heating bills in winter.

“This will provide long-term gains for the country and is fiscally responsible. We can do this while meeting all the targets we have set ourselves under the Budget Responsibility Rules, and without raising anyone’s personal income tax.

“The steps we are taking today show this Government’s determination to make a difference to the lives of many New Zealanders so more can share in the gains of economic growth. It’s about priorities and choices,” says Jacinda Ardern.

*   Defined as living in a household with an income less than 50 per cent of median equivalised household income before deducting housing costs

Hon Grant Robertson – Finance

“We can meet all of our commitments within our Budget Responsibility Rules. These commitments include our 100-Day Plan; Labour’s other policies in the pre-election Fiscal Plan; the Coalition Agreement between Labour and New Zealand First; and the Confidence and Supply Agreement between Labour and the Green Party.

“The Treasury’s Half Year Update incorporates the costs of our 100-Day Plan. The BPS indicates how policies outside this will be afforded within the capital and operating expenditures allowed in future Budgets. Over the next four years, allowances for policies outside of the 100-Day Plan provide $21.7 billion in new operating expenditure, and capital allowances provide for $12.6 billion of new investments.

“Today we are announcing the full details of the Government’s Families Package. This is paid for by rejecting National’s tax cuts and instead targeting spending at those who need it most. It will lift 88,000 children out of poverty by 2021.*

“Boosts to Working for Families, the introduction of Best Start and the Winter Energy Payment, reinstating the Independent Earner Tax Credit and continuing with the recent Accommodation Supplement changes will greatly help struggling families to access the basics which all New Zealanders should have.

“Within our 100-Day Plan we have kept our promise to begin fees-free post-secondary school education and training, kicked off the work on KiwiBuild, legislated for 26 weeks Paid Parental Leave and Healthy Homes, and much more.

“We will measure our progress as a Government differently – by focussing on improving wellbeing and lifting living standards. The first steps towards this are in our 100-Day Plan, with legislation to develop child poverty indicators that must be reported against at Budget time.

“Over the next four years, economic growth is set to remain strong, averaging 3 per cent. Unemployment is forecast to fall to the Government’s 4 per cent target, and wages are forecast to rise on average by more than 3 per cent annually.

“The Treasury forecasts we will keep government spending within its recent historical range, and that net core Crown debt will fall to 19.3 per cent of GDP within five years of us taking office – as promised.

Hon Carmel Sepuloni & Hon Tracey Martin – Social Development & Children

Hon Kelvin Davis – Crown/Māori Relations

Hon Auptio William Sio – Pacific Peoples

Hon Phil Twyford – Housing and Urban Development

Hon Chris Hipkins – Education

Hon James Shaw – Climate Change, Statistics, Associate Finance

Hon Megan Woods & Hon Carmel Sepuloni – Energy and Resources & Social Development

What if the Auckland Council put this much effort into housing and transport?

The Auckland Council employs 234 communications staff at a cost of $45 million. They seem intent on talking about what they might do – perhaps a lot of these resources would be better targeted at actually doing, especially on challenging issues like housing and transport.

NZH: $45m bill for communications at Auckland Council

Auckland ratepayers are picking up a $45.6 million tab to run communication departments, employing 234 staff, at Auckland Council and five council-controlled organisations, according to a leaked review.

A “confidential draft” of the review, obtained by the Weekend Herald, has uncovered a huge blowout in communication salary costs at four council bodies.

Between 2013 and 2017, salary costs soared by 75 per cent at Auckland Council, 87 per cent at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) and 56 per cent at Auckland Transport.

Salary costs rose by 104.5 per cent at Panuku Development Auckland, which was formed in September 2015 from the merger of Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Property Ltd.

Just on ‘communications’?

The actual dollar figures of the communications salary totals, including the rises, at the council-controlled organisations are not included in the report, or available at this time.

The Communications & Engagement review includes media and communications, marketing, research and consultation staff.

Consultation with ratepayers is important, as is marketing, but 234 staff sounds a lot.

The review is one of four ‘value for money’ reviews commissioned by Auckland Council as Mayor Phil Goff strives to find savings and efficiencies in the council’s budget – one of his key election campaign pledges.

The findings of the review will confirm Goff’s concerns during last year’s mayoral campaign that there are too many communications staff at council and “way above what it could be”.

According to the communications review, a previous business case to improve communications at Auckland Council in 2014 largely failed. The 2014 goal was to reduce the number of communications staff to 92. Staff numbers have increased to 105.

The business case recommended council develop a strategy for communications and engagement. “No strategy has been developed,” the latest review said.

The review said there is no formal communications strategy across the council and CCOs. It calls for a strategy to achieve a co-ordinated, consistent and collaborative approach.

It also called for cost savings of 5 per cent a year for the next three years.

After a 2014 business case to reduce staff they instead increase staff and costs by 56% to 104.5%. Targeting a reduction of 5% seems lame and hard to have confidence in.

Senate defies Trump on climate change

This is only small change as far as money goes but it’s a bit of a snub for President Trump.

Reuters:  Defying Trump, Senate panel approves funding for U.N. climate body

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill on Thursday evening that includes $10 million to help fund the United Nations’ climate change body that oversees the Paris Climate Agreement, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to stop funding it.

The 30-member Senate panel, which allocates federal funds to various government agencies and organizations, approved a $51 billion spending bill for the State Department and foreign operations, which included an amendment to continue funding the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as the scientific body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The amendment passed even though the 2018 budget proposal that Trump, a Republican, introduced earlier this year eliminated support of any mechanism to finance climate change projects in developing countries and organizations.

The United States has usually contributed to around 20 percent of the UNFCCC budget.

The amendment passed 16-14. Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee voted in favor, as did all committee Democrats except for West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

So mixed messages from the US on climate change measures.

In a diplomatic cable that Reuters obtained last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said U.S. diplomats should sidestep questions from foreign governments on how the United States plans re-engage in the global Paris climate agreement.

The cable also said diplomats should make clear that the United States wants to help other countries use fossil fuels, which have been linked to global warming.

Trump seems intent on promoting dirty fossil fuels with little regard for their impact on the environment.

This is minor defiance from the US senate.

 

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?