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(Various photos from Radio NZ)
(Various photos from Radio NZ)

The BulletinMay 18, 2018

The Bulletin: Budget 2018 Megamix

(Various photos from Radio NZ)
(Various photos from Radio NZ)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. Today we’ve got all the washing up from yesterday’s budget, plus news about councils, cows and creeps.

The first budget of the Labour–led government has been delivered, with few surprises for those who’ve been avidly following developments over the last month. Finally, the exact spending plans the government intends to follow for the three years of their term have been laid out – except for a few key areas where they arguably still haven’t. Here are the highlights:

Health is the big winner, according to pretty much everyone. This report from Stuff lays out some of the announcements, including a big spend on hospital infrastructure, cheaper GP visits for those with community services cards, and free GP visits extended to those under 14 years old. On the other hand, this tweet from Nursing Review indicates a major battle is still to be fought – how much will be allocated for pay rises for nurses? The offer could have a big impact on whether strike action is taken later this year.

Education funding is a similar situation in a lot of ways. This Newsroom report explains that while there has been a big funding boost, it’s going towards school buildings, and hiring more teachers. Less clear is just how much teacher pay rises will be, and how exactly schools will find people who want to be hired if salaries remain relatively unattractive. The NZEI says the budget is a minimal patch–up after a long period of underfunding.

Police and Corrections have received some of what was indicated during the election campaign, but not all of it yet. The NZ Herald reports an additional 920 frontline police officers will be hired, going some way towards Labour’s goal of 1800 over the three year term. In terms of the Waikeria mega–prison, that decision has been delayed again, but funding has been provided for what are effectively urgent pop up prison cells, as the system is almost at capacity. As Labour plans to significantly reduce the prison population, they may be hoping the course of events means they can delay a decision on Waikeria long enough, that it is no longer needed.

Speaking of delays, the Air Force has had its decision on replacement Orion planes delayed again, reports NewsroomAnd the full $38 million a year boost for Radio NZ has also been “delayed” – in that they’ve been given $15 million this year, and unspecified amounts in future budgets which will make up the difference over the next four years. And it’s not clear where even that $15 million will go, which public media guy Russell Brown fumes about in this post on Public Address.

The government is now committed to building 6400 state and social houses over the next four years – more than what the Labour party promised during the election campaign, reports Stuff. Spending on the Kiwibuild programme has been pushed out further into the future, reports Interest.

Former Māori party co–leader Dame Tariana Turia is gutted there is no funding boost for Whānau Ora, reports Newstalk ZB. In fact, by and large there were few initiatives targeted directly at Māori. Labour’s argument is that addressing those in most social and economic need will effectively target Māori who need support the most by extension.

Here’s an interesting detail from this NZ Herald rundown: “On percentage terms, the biggest loser was the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, whose funding dropped a massive $43.9 per cent in funding, or $60m. And some of our watchdogs are among the biggest losers – the Serious Fraud Office, Education Review Office, State Services Commission, Internal Affairs and Office of the Controller and Auditor.”

So what does it all mean? The coalitions’s core message is basically that while economic growth was taking place under the last government, many were being left behind, and they want to fix that. Grant Robertson’s press release also characterised the budget as a major investment in services and infrastructure that will be needed long into the future.

But National says there’s little to be celebrated here, saying Labour have broken their promises, and are increasing taxes and borrowing. Meanwhile the Greens are talking up a big boost for the Department of Conservation, and more money for public transport (well canvassed earlier in the year.) And ACT says the taxpayer is being “pillaged.”

One thing to note about the respective power of the government support parties – NZ First have got far more out of this budget than the Greens, reports the NZ Herald. The Greens effectively get $610m of ‘their’ spending, vs just under $3 billion for NZ First – a significant chunk of which is the billion dollar provincial growth fund.

We’re almost there, don’t worry. Here’s just a few more particularly interesting takes from interest groups and commentators. Auckland Action Against Poverty have hammered the government for not changing anything for people on benefits, despite promises of transformational change in welfare. The Science Media Centre has collected reactions from experts in the field, where there is cautious support for the research and development tax credits. And The Spinoff’s business editor Rebecca Stevenson has rounded up a few of the more interesting rats and mice of the budget, including, for example, $650,000 for musicians to go on tour.

And finally, what about the newspapers? Everyone’s gone and blown the Budget on covering the Budget as it were – it dominates pretty much every front page around the country this morning. The NZ Herald make it to page A12 before doing anything other than the Budget, whereas the Stuff papers have scattered coverage throughout rather than front loading it all.

Right, what else has been going on?

Thousands of Auckland Council staff have been underpaid since 2010Radio NZ reports. The Council is admitting they’ve implemented the Holidays Act wrong, and miscalculated leave, sick leave and public holiday entitlements. The bungle will cost them around $18 million in back pay. Current staff are expected to be paid out next week, but former staff might be waiting a while longer while they figure out exactly what is owed.

A small–herd Nelson farmer has called on the government to halt the cow cull, reports the Nelson Mail, as he believes the battle to eradicate mycoplasma bovis has already been lost. Given the potential cost of eradication is about $1 billion, with farmers expected to take on 40% of that, it’s likely many will be willing to throw in the towel and cut their losses. The ministry for primary industries is about halfway through a cull of 22,000 cows, but the disease continues to spread.

A labour hire company that banned migrant workers from joining or contacting a union is admitting it was a mistake, but is blaming an authority in the Philippines, reports Radio NZ. Allied Workforce now say they are confident their contracts with the 99 Filipino workers are legal.

This first person piece from NZ Herald journalist Kirsty Johnston is very much worth reading. It’s a personal story that paints a wider picture about the pernicious culture of male entitlement in New Zealand. The piece is powerful, and on a subject that shouldn’t be ignored any longer – while some of the famous and powerful might have been on the receiving end of some justice from the #metoo movement, everyday encounters like the one described by Johnston matter just as much.

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Right now on The Spinoff: The final word in all Budget coverage – our group think panel of experts cover of some of the areas you might have missed. A new and frankly really bizarre episode of The Real Pod is out. And Tom Augustine has paid tribute to a hidden gem on NZ music now on Spotify – Lydia by Fur Patrol.

Here’s an opinion piece which all journalists, and in fact all people concerned about transparent government, should get behind. Newsroom’s Shane Cowlishaw has written about the Labour led government’s broken promise on reforming the Official Information Act. This is one of the most important single pieces of legislation for improving the quality of governance New Zealanders get, and it has been abused by politicians on both sides of the house. Here’s a sample of the piece:

“It will be different if you vote us in, they vowed. Cabinet papers and the like would be regularly released ahead of time. The Official Information Act was to be treated with the respect it deserves. We want the public to trust us, to know what we’re doing, they claimed.

With the Government’s first Budget to be revealed today and ministers firmly entrenched in their roles, none of this has materialised.”

This might seem to be a trivial issue, compared to the likes of housing and health and the various other announcements in the budget. But transparency, and the public having the ability to uncover information, affects everything the government and public service do. It goes beyond the partisan politics of any given day, to the fundamental issue of whether or not the people we elect have respect for the public. The government claims reform, or changes to the way the public service respond to OIAs, will happen in the future. If not now, when?

I tricked you before, there is actually more Budget stuff. $100 million has been confirmed for the America’s Cup, reports the NZ Herald. With Auckland Council’s contributions, that still leaves $14 million to be found somehow.

And the Football Ferns are facing a clash against Japan without star defender Abby Erceg, who has retired again for the second time in 15 monthsStuff reports the reasons for the second retirement are not clear, and there is a significant amount of mess and mystery around the circumstances.

From our partners, Vector’s Karl Check analyses Australia’s progress when it comes to shifting away from coal and gas fired power plants and onto renewable energy sources.

That’s it for the The Bulletin. If you liked what you read, and know other people who would find it useful, please forward it on and encourage them to sign up here. Thanks for joining us this morning. Have a lovely weekend.

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