Opposition finance spokesperson Amy Adams, photographed on April 24, 2017 in Turkey. (Photo by Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Amy Adams: The budget needs to focus on substance, not just branding

Budget 2019: Opposition finance spokesperson Amy Adams on the rhetoric behind the first wellbeing budget, coming later this week.

This week will see the Labour-led government produce their much hyped ‘wellbeing budget’. That of course raises the questions of what wellbeing means, how it is assessed and how this budget will be any different to what has gone before.

Grant Robertson has tried to position this as something that has never been done before and yet other than the marketing, nothing about that claim stacks up. We’ve seen already that this is a government that is big on talk but falls well short on delivery and this budget branding exercise looks to be more of the same.

What really matters in any budget is how the lives of New Zealanders are being improved in ways that matter and how the government is ensuring we have the economic strength to allow us to continue that progress in future budgets. Right now what we actually have is the cost of living rising, fewer jobs being created, more people on benefits and in emergency housing, and child poverty stats going backwards, all while the economy slows faster than anyone predicted.

To National, wellbeing starts with having a good job and being able to afford the basic costs of living. It means having a health system that meets our expectations as a prosperous first world economy, an education system where every child flourishes and safe communities to live in. It means having a roading system that allows us to travel safely and efficiently and proudly acting as the kaitiaki of the stunning natural environment we are blessed with.

From Labour we have heard about moon feelings, locus of control and learnt that having contact with your neighbours or joining a club can be assessed as being of greater value than say, avoiding diabetes. Meanwhile the slowing economy is being largely dismissed by the finance minister as being nothing to do with him.

Every budget is a statement from the government of the day on how it believes it can best use the money it takes from taxpayers to improve the lives of New Zealanders. It covers the decisions made on investments in core public services like health, education, housing, police and welfare support, but also fundamental building blocks like infrastructure, tax and the public service.  This budget will be no different in that regard. To claim this is the first budget to have cared about how the lives of New Zealanders can be improved is a nonsense and nothing more than empty rhetoric. Budget priorities being set through an “evidence based collaborative process” and then all bids being measured against those priorities is also nothing new. It may be new to Labour but I know from experience that is exactly how it worked in the last government.

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The government has also said that this budget will for the first time ask agencies to work across government on shared objectives. Once more that is simply untrue. From my own time in cabinet I can think of numerous examples that I was involved in over many budgets when that was the case. From the fresh water teams working across treasury, MPI, ministry for the environment and others to develop a set of national standards for water quality, to the family violence work programme (which this government has recently announced a continuation of funding to), that involved 12 different government agencies, and many, many others.

Finally the government has claimed that for the first time they are not using GDP as the only indicator of success. This is a remarkable claim from the government that has actually removed public reporting of all National’s targets on things like how long the public has to wait for cancer treatment, how many kids are getting NCEA level 2, what the serious crime rate is, the wait time for public housing and so on. GDP is important as any economist will tell you but it has never been the only indicator of success. There is a rewrite of history occurring here that needs to be called out.

On budget day New Zealanders will be looking for this government to move past the virtue signalling and platitudes and clearly set out – not just how much the government can spend, but how the future of all New Zealanders is being secured.

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