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Grant Robertson with his 'no-frills' budget.
Grant Robertson’s budget is expected to be ‘no-frills’. (Photo: Getty / Treatment: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsMay 18, 2023

A budget guide for people who don’t care about the budget

Grant Robertson with his 'no-frills' budget.
Grant Robertson’s budget is expected to be ‘no-frills’. (Photo: Getty / Treatment: Tina Tiller)

Budget 2023: Everything a hater needs to know about today’s budget announcement – and nothing more.

So we’re doing this budget thing again. Remind me – what exactly is that? 

It’s the day the government reveals how it’s going to spend all of its money for the next 12 months. Finance minister Grant Robertson is being forced to wrestle an octopus – or, as one Stuff wag put it, “box with one arm tied behind his back” – with this one. Decisions he makes now will affect us for the next 12 months. It’s important!

Is it though?

Yes! All that money comes from you and your taxpayer dollars. This is the government’s chance to show it knows what it’s doing and is in clear control of our future. When inflation is running hot, the cost of living crisis is biting, we’re still recovering from cyclones, floods and Covid and it’s an election year, it’s more crucial than ever.

How much money are we talking about? 

Literal billions.

That’s a lot of money! If he’s about to splash so much money around, why do I keep hearing the phrase “no-frills”? Wasn’t that a super-cheap 80s supermarket brand?

It was! My parents took me to shop at Whanganui’s No Frills outlet regularly. We also had a “Write Price” where you wrote your own price on food items with black marker pens that never ever worked. We loved our cheap supermarkets.

So what does “no-frills” mean now?

No-frills has become a catch-all used to lower expectations and indicate things are being done on the cheap. The government’s been using it in the lead-up to this budget to do exactly that. So you could also call it the the “Costco budget”. Duncan Greive, reporting from the budget lockup, called it “The budget budget from Homebrand Hipkins”. It other words: don’t expect a mammoth splurge. This isn’t the time or place.

OK, so what’s this guy Robertson spending all this money on this year?

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news, obviously. Don’t do me like that. Not today.

Those $5 prescription fees we’ve all been paying for medication are being scrapped. Parents are getting an extra year of ECE funding for their toddlers, amounting to $133.20 a week. Under-13s are getting free public transport, and it’s half-price for under-25s. “We’re very much focused on doing the basics well,” Robertson says.

Are last year’s cost of living payments being extended? 

No. Sorry. That’s your bad news. Robertson says this is a “sensible and responsible” budget that comes with the slogan, “Support for today, building for tomorrow”. That means there’s no big one-off payout or relief for taxpayers. You’ll need to keep suffering through supermarket and petrol price rises for now. But remember, this is an election year: those treats may be saved for closer to voting day.

OK, so what’s the government doing to address all of the bigger issues we’re facing?

There’s $6bn being spent on resilience funding, and another $71bn committed to infrastructure investment over the next five years. Already announced is $9bn-$14.5bn for cyclone recovery. “We need to rebuild … for future pressures we know will come,” Robertson says.

Were there any surprises at all?

Not really. “This is a budget that does exactly what it says on the tin,” Robertson says. Perhaps the biggest was the gaming industry getting a shock boost with a 20% rebate on costs across the next four years. It’s been calling out for help for years.

So what’s the reaction been like? 

Opposition parties have predictably put the boot in. National had some fun with alliteration and called it the “blowout budget”. Act got in on the, er, act as well, labelling it the “build back broke budget”. The Green Party, meanwhile, said this budget did nothing to address climate change and wealth inequality and should have gone further.

Phew. That’s about all the budget news I can take. Is there anything worth celebrating?

Yes! Inflation is finally predicted to ease over the coming months, and Treasury is no longer forecasting a recession.

I’ll take it.

Keep going!