One Question Quiz
Christopher Luxon and Grant Robertson melt butter in their mouths. Photos: Hagen Hopkins/Getty; Design: Archi Banal
Christopher Luxon and Grant Robertson melt butter in their mouths. Photos: Hagen Hopkins/Getty; Design: Archi Banal

PoliticsMay 18, 2023

Bread and Breader: Watching the budget debate

Christopher Luxon and Grant Robertson melt butter in their mouths. Photos: Hagen Hopkins/Getty; Design: Archi Banal
Christopher Luxon and Grant Robertson melt butter in their mouths. Photos: Hagen Hopkins/Getty; Design: Archi Banal

A gluten-bloated Toby Manhire braves the parliamentary exchanges on Budget 2023. 

In these sombre, back-to-basics, bread and butter times, god forbid you crack a smile. Grant Robertson has never been less interesting in the House of Representatives, and that was the plan. “It is a budget that does exactly what it says on the tin,” he told parliament, and the tin he had in mind was a can of No Frills soup. 

In these days of moderation and unfussy focus, only food based figures of speech will do. If the consumer price index measured culinary metaphors in the political economy, the country would be facing the kind of hyperinflationary crisis you’d expect from a – sorry about this but I’m not stopping now – banana republic. And so this morning, Chris Hipkins appeared with his finance minister and two plates of kai to maintain the tradition of budget day nourishment. The cheese rolls had been impaled with sausages, to create what Robertson called, monstrously, “meat cheese rolls”. 

Alongside that abomination in the pre-match rituals was the tie presented by the prime minister to his chief accountant. Today it was one that Michael Cullen used to wear when he was finance minister. A heartfelt moment, given Cullen’s influence on Hipkins and Robertson, and an elegant paisley. Though it lacked the quality of being edible, it did have the double advantage of avoiding Hipkins making a fashion decision and thrift; according to economists, a hand-me-down tie has very little inflationary impact

The NZ prime minister, Chris Hipkins, takes a photograph on his phone of some sausage rolls, as the minister of finance, Grant Robertson, watches on, disgusted (Photo: Some social media platform or other)

Back in the house, Robertson’s speech was determinedly unfancy. “It is hard to remember a time in New Zealand’s history where there have been so many challenges to our economic, environmental and social systems in such a short period of time,” he said, as meat cheese rolls made their way through his digestive system. “Individuals, families, businesses, and communities are feeling the impact of global economic and political turbulence, high inflation, the lingering hangover of the Covid emergency, and the impacts of climate change through more frequent and intense weather events.” 

He said: “Cost of living pressures”, later adding “cost of living pressures”, “cost of living pressures” and “cost of living pressures”. The benches behind him, plainly affixed to some Pavlovian electrical shock devices, emitted random bursts of applause. 

Robertson stamped out any hopes of a lolly scramble. Christopher Luxon was pick’n’mix. No doubt, responding to budget statements must be a nightmare, with hardly a minute to fashion a line in fresh rebuttal, but here the leader of the opposition appeared to have cut and paste paragraphs from his last half-dozen speeches. The central pitch: You think you’re bread and butter, mate? Well, I’m breader and I’m butterer. Anything you can’t do, I can’t do better. 

Luxon did land a blow on bread and pastry goods, saying: “Bread is actually up 39% under Labour, and those sausage rolls that he likes to have selfies with, well, they’re actually up 36%.” But other parts of his speech appeared to be the work of ChatGPT scrolling social media. “This budget is just another example of this government gaslighting the country,” he opened. Three more times, he said it: gaslighting.

At one point he said: “They are literally a gaslighting government.” Which, if true, is of concern. Hipkins and his mates must immediately cease interfering with the intensity of the gas-fuelled lights that we all have in our homes, whether or not it’s with the intent of driving us into psychiatric institutions.

“Blowout budget,” said Luxon, numerously. He made reference to Hipkins’ “addiction” to spending no fewer than 14 times. It was like Cocaine Bear, but everyone had been snorting bread and butter; too many Chrises and not enough charlie. 

Christopher Luxon identifies another shortcoming in the budget (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Hipkins was next up and he looked like the happiest man alive. Luxon is still getting used to the weird rhythmic gymnastics of parliament. Hipkins has been debating there, bushy tailed, day in day out, since before he was born, since before parliaments, or the universe itself existed. He was “positive and pragmatic” and he would bring back butter, he said, or was it build back better. Either way, what he meant was: I’ve got so much gas we’re going to need a bigger tank.

David Seymour stood and appeared to be buffering. “Blowout budget,” said the Act leader. “Addiction to spending.” It got better. There were references to antiquity: “He came, he borrowed, he bankrupted all of us.” To astronomy: “Planet out of touch is the planet that they’re on.” And contemporary musical theatre: “You know what the streets of Auckland are like; it’s like that scene in The Lion King when Simba returns and the hyenas are running it.”

Marama Davidson stepped up. “All right,” she said, “the boys have had a little bit of a go.” The Green co-leader then explained that the best parts of the budget were nicked from the Green Party manifesto of more than a decade ago. The budget was good, she said, except that it also was supine, pathetic and failed to take on the “outrageous and immoral” issues facing the country. 

Davidson was the only speaker in the budget debate to properly acknowledge her fellow MPs’ applause. “Thank you, thank you, my colleagues,” she said at one point. At another: “Ohh, you’re so cute my colleagues, I love you.” We can only guess at what was being posted in the groupchat. 

Rounding out the afternoon’s debate was Rawiri Waititi, who alighted on another budget tradition, the way that “every year, it bamboozles the hell out of this nation”. Te Pāti Māori co-leader picked up the doughy motif. Tangata whenua, he said, were expected to thrill at “the small crumbs that are thrown our way”.

The “elephant in the room”, he said, was a wealth tax. It was so bad that he called Robertson’s effort “the Sheriff of Nottingham budget – tax the poor and give to the rich”. Was he right? I don’t know. I was floating away as the echoes of a timeless waiata seemed to fill the chamber. Clannad. Rawiri. The hooded man.

Keep going!