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Grant Robertson and his 2023 budget (Photo supplied, additional design by Tina Tiller)
Grant Robertson and his 2023 budget (Photo supplied, additional design by Tina Tiller)

The BulletinMay 19, 2023

Ten key reads on Budget 2023

Grant Robertson and his 2023 budget (Photo supplied, additional design by Tina Tiller)
Grant Robertson and his 2023 budget (Photo supplied, additional design by Tina Tiller)

Nobody has time to read everything on the budget, so Catherine McGregor rounds up some of the most interesting takes in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

For National, it was the “blowout budget”; for Act, the “build back broke budget”. The government, of course, called it a “bread and butter budget” that would allow New Zealand to “build back better”. The rash of alliterative sound bites was matched only by the usual tsunami of media analysis, far more of it than any normal human could hope to read in one sitting. If that normal human is you, I’ve done the hard yards by picking out 10 interesting reads to give you a sense of the overall picture and the areas that did – or did not – get some cash. There’s a lot of great Spinoff content in the list, of course, and I also encourage you to take a look at Chris Schulz’s guide to the budget for people who don’t really care about the budget, Duncan Greive’s analysis from inside the Beehive budget day lockup; and the rolling coverage in our live updates. Here’s what else caught my eye.

Get your hot takes here

If you just want to read sector experts on what the budget means for their field, look no further than our annual hot take roundtable. Among the writers is economist and child poverty campaigner Susan St John, who expresses shock that Working For Families was left untouched. “It is tiresome to hear that allowing low-income families to have sufficient income to feed their families would be inflationary,” she writes. “It would not – in fact, it would make the economy work better.” Also disappointed is Andrew Eagles of the Green Building Council. He welcomes the expansion of the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme but says it’s “a very minor step forward when we should be rapidly making major improvements to New Zealand homes”.

Bread and circuses (but mostly bread)

The award for funniest take on Budget 2023 goes to up-and-coming political sketch writer Toby Manhire, whose depiction of the post-budget parliamentary debate begins on a high note – the traditional budget-day cheese rolls had been “impaled with sausages, to create what Robertson called, monstrously, ‘meat cheese rolls’” – and includes a wonderful line on the repeated references to Hipkins’ “addiction” to spending in Luxon’s speech to parliament. “It was like Cocaine Bear,” writes Manhire, “but everyone had been snorting bread and butter.”

A ‘kludgeocratic’ budget

Danyl Mclauchlan also delivers a beautifully written budget response, while introducing me to a new word: “kludgeocracy”, meaning “a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem”. This was a kludgeocratic budget in an era where such budgets are now the norm, Mclauchlan writes. “They deliver payouts to cohorts of swing voters and politically connected industry sectors, because these are in the immediate interests of the politicians, pollsters and strategists who design our budgets. It’s a bad way to run a country but an excellent way to win elections.”

Bingeing on bread and butter

OK, it’s not actually something to read, but the now-traditional Gone By Lunchtime-When the Facts Change crossover podcast is a must-listen. Toby Manhire and Bernard Hickey discuss the main takeaways from the budget, including Hickey calling the removal of the $5 prescription fee a “win-win-win” and the “best policy to come out of this budget”. Presumably, it’s one of the policies he believed National “would find uncomfortable to reverse” – little did he know that just hours later National would announce it planned to do just that.

What does it mean for the economy?

On the NZ Herald (paywalled), Liam Dann assesses the economic impact of the government’s middle-of-the-road approach. He says Labour had the option of plumping for an “austerity budget”, but that’s not Labour’s style. Instead the thinking seems to be “Why not take the softer path, offer young families a break, slow the pace of debt reduction and live the deficit life a bit longer?” The upside, Dann notes, “is less short-term pain”. The downside? “Inflation may take a little longer to ease.”

The science community responds

The Science Media Centre has gathered responses to the announcements touching the worlds of science, technology and research and development, including $450m for three “multi-institution research hubs” in Wellington and ​​$55m to go towards research fellowships and supporting more PhD students. MacDiarmid Institute co-director Nicola Gaston is always worth reading, and here she calls for a rethink on the entire way science is funded in NZ. The “fundamental mistake”, she says, “has been to put the cart before the horse by trying to fund outcomes rather than researchers. So many of the issues that we recognise in our research system… are simple consequences of the fact that it is too small.”

Games industry: Tax rebate came in the nick of time

Over on Newsroom, Andrew Bevin has been talking to key figures in the video game industry about the budget’s 20% tax rebate for game developers. It’s half what Australia offers, but it may be enough to stem the exodus of talent across the ditch. RocketWerkz’s Stephen Knightly tells Bevin a handful of New Zealand studios have already opened studios in Australia. “Some of our largest studios would have next week jumped on a plane to Australia without this budget announcement,” Knightley says.

Jono Milne on taxes and trusts

Also on Newsroom, Jonathan Milne explains why, despite Grant Robertson declaring “no new taxes”, the government is set to rake in $80 billion more in taxes over the next four years. Spoiler: most of it is down to a bigger GST take from more expensive… everything, plus income taxes from rising pay rates. There’s also $350 million a year set to come from the increase in trustee tax from 33% to 39%. An interesting tidbit: when the 39% personal rate was introduced in 2021, it resulted in a 50% spike in trustee income during that first year.

Māori political leaders react

While the headline Māori-specific funding decision is the long-awaited boost to Te Matatini, the national kapa haka competition, overall funding of Māori initiatives has dropped from over $1 billion last year to $825 million in Budget 2023. RNZ has a rundown of what’s in this year’s “Māori budget”, and reaction from Māori political leaders. The government has “provided us evidence the focus is more on the middle to rich voter”, says Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who questions why there was nothing in the budget to make food more affordable by removing GST.

Has the government targeted the wrong voters?

As Danyl Mclauchlan observes above, analysing the budget by way of the voters it satisfies is a cynical way of looking at things. But this is politics, and who is made happy by this budget will matter a lot come election day. Writes 1 News’ Felix Desmarais, “The problem for Labour is it’s so-called ‘middle New Zealand’ [who] are the voters they want, and need. And while altruism is a noble aspiration, most voters are ultimately motivated by what is best for them and theirs. Lower income New Zealanders are the big winners here, so Labour better hope they turn out on October 14 to show their gratitude.”

Keep going!