Grant Robertson has reiterated his commitment to health in next week’s budget but cost of living headwinds aren’t easing, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin.
Future focus, present day pain
As we wind down a big week of government announcements, the “n” and “m” keys on my laptop worn down, the government has been set on casting forward, beyond Covid, ahead of next week’s budget. We’ve had big announcements on immigration and climate change policy. Meanwhile daily headlines remain trained on the very present day cost of living. Nicola Willis delivered her first big speech on the economy as National’s finance spokesperson this week and she stayed focussed on what could be done to help the squeezed middle.
Robertson sticking to guns on budget
At a speech in Wellington yesterday, finance minister Grant Robertson said he was “well and truly over” Covid. Next week’s budget will be the first of a “new normal” following the “crisis” budgets of the Covid-19 era, he said. Robertson was also adamant that the focus of the budget will be health saying “If we decided against reforming our health system, we would not see lower petrol prices; we would just have both high petrol prices and a health system that was not set up to meet our needs.”
Cost of living headlines won’t quit
A few hours after Robertson finished his speech, Stats NZ dropped its April food price index figures showing a 6.4% rise in the cost of food over the last year. In good news, vegetables are getting slightly cheaper. The speed at which I hit that link was bested only by the frantic triple tap on the mouse to get to this one which had the words “supermarket” and “discount” in the headline. After conversations about petrol prices were neutered for a bit by the fuel excise tax cut, everyone is dusting off their “how to save on petrol” tips again.
The Budget, your budget
This tension reminds me of a conversation I had working in a comms and marketing job. We were trying to make the Budget (big B, we’d say) relevant to people who were probably more worried about their own circumstances and budgets (little b) and we ended up sharing household money-saving tips on budget day. What was an inconsequential comms conundrum in different times, feels like a very real one for the government right now. It’s not that people don’t care about the big B budget, the health reforms or climate change, it’s just that you can see why a former adviser to the Labour and Green parties might be asking whether Labour will be bold enough to seize back the cost-of-living narrative. Toby Manhire, Annabelle Lee-Mather and Ben Thomas also discuss this in the latest episode of Gone by Lunchtime.