By Jason Walls
Thursday’s Budget and its massive commitment to rebuilding public services was just the opening act of a six-year plan to rebuild the public sector, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.
Speaking to Interest.co.nz the day after unveiling his first Budget, Robertson made it clear this area will be a major focus for the Government across its first and second term – if re-elected.
On Thursday, Robertson delivered exactly what he said he would – “a rebuilding Budget.”
Of the almost $10 billion of new spending initiatives, $6.5 billion went into “rebuilding critical public services.”
More than $3 billion of that was for health and included $2.3 billion for District Health Boards.
“We recognised coming into Government that we needed to invest in public services, particularly health, housing and education,” he said on Friday.
“We wanted to lay the foundation for those to be the services that New Zealanders want and deserve.”
The fact Thursday’s Budget would heavily focus on rebuilding was flagged some weeks ago by the Prime Minister, who dubbed it the “rebuilding Budget.”
But Robertson says the Government still has a lot of work to do in this area.
“We certainly know that we have to keep going,” he says, adding that he has always said the Government can’t undo nine years of underfunding in just one Budget.
So how many more budgets until he has fixed the problems Labour says it inherited from National?
When it comes to health, he says six.
He says under this Labour-led Government, the health sector can expect more funding every year – “we have to make up for what hasn’t been put in, in the past as well as what needs to be put in, in the future.”
It’s all well and good for the commitment to be made over the next two budgets but beyond that, Robertson faces a problem.
“With the nature of the electoral cycle in New Zealand, with our three-year terms, it’s hard to do all of the things you might want in any given area,” he says.
But, historically speaking, Robertson has good odds. The last time New Zealand had a one term Government was in the early 1970s.
A predictable Budget
On Wednesday, Ardern said the Budget would be predictable. If the reaction is anything to go by, it’s safe to say it lived up to that prediction.
In fact, some went as far as calling it a “boring Budget” with very few big-ticket items outside what had already been announced.
But Robertson says people need to remember the Government unveiled a mini-Budget in December, which included initiatives such as the $5.5 billion families package.
This was done so the initiatives of the package could come into force by July 1 this year.
“If you put together the families package, - $5.5 billion over four years with the investments that are in this Budget, I think you could see a Budget that does a lot. If people want to call it boring that's up to them.”