Steven Joyce and Grant Robertson traded hearty fiscal blows today. But what on earth were they on about? Over to you, Keith Ng.
You think we’d all be numbed to the election year crayfest, but then comes an election year scandal to end all election year scandals: bad accounting! National and Labour’s finance spokespeople have been fighting most of the afternoon over what Steven Joyce calls a “11.7 billion hole in Labour’s fiscal numbers” and Grant Robertson rejects as “a cynical attempt to create a diversion”.
This is the moment I’ve been preparing for all my life. So please, let me burn bright like a glorious VBA macro for the next 2 minutes and 20 seconds, as I take you through this Excelmageddon.
In the government Budget is a line called “future operating allowance” (You still awake? You still with me? Do I need to make more jokes?). Think of this as “money we can spend”. But to be precise, it’s new money that we commit to spending every year.
So every year, in addition to the new spending, we also need to pay for money we committed to spending the year before, and the year before that, etc.
What Steven Joyce claimed was that Labour forgot to count the commitment of previous years, so they missed $9bn:
Grant Robertson’s response was that they didn’t forget, they just put it in a different line:
You OK? You ready to continue? Sorry I should’ve added more trigger warnings but it’s too late now you can’t unsee this shit.
Ultimately, there is no missing money. The money is accounted for. I suspect there’s some shenanigans around why Labour did it this way (to make the health/education/etc lines look bigger, basically), but it’s literally a question of whether you put the numbers on row 239 or row 228 in the spreadsheet.
I know the question of whether to preallocate forecasted future operating spending to an expense category is contentious, fraught with emotions and deeply entrenched beliefs, but we must remain calm and hold on to the deep truth that, despite our accounting differences, we are one nation, under one crown account.