New Zealand Treasurer Grant Robertson must have been a tangle of emotions on the night before the 2020 Fiscal Budget which was delivered on 14 May at 1400 hours. So much riding on probably the single most important budget in a generation: the one that gets New Zealand out of the COVID19 mud pit.
New Zealand’s economy has taken a battering. Of that, there is no doubt. Unemployment may reach nearly double digit percentage figures, with Air New Zealand shedding 3750 jobs; 150+ at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook Village; 300 at Ngai Tahu; and another 240 when Bauer collapsed the New Zealand magazine industry. Thousands more are going in the hospitality sector where the forced closure as a result of COVID19 has sent many restaurants, bars and cafes to the wall.
On one hand he had an unprecedented licence to spend on measures to get the economy going again. On the other Mr Robertson would have been nervous about whether he got the balance right between a big spend up and having enough in the bank for 2021, in case COVID19 did not clear out as fast as hoped for and to cover unforeseen emergency expenditure. And then some how dancing between the two hands, the knowledge that no matter which way he sliced and diced the pie, someone would not get enough support and might have valid reasons to be grumpy.
So, what did Mr Robertson’s Fiscal Budget 2020 do:
- For people like me finding out that the Government has thrown another $3.2 billion in wage subsidies to businesses was very welcome news – most budgets do little for me, but this one honestly has
- Kainga Ora has been allocated funding to build another 8,000 houses
- 11,000 additional jobs will be created with a $1.1 billion fund to support environmental projects’
- $1.6 billion for vocational training for those out of work and school leavers
Notably the Government had $50 billion it could have spent on New Zealand yesterday. It appears to have allocated around $30 billion of that money, leaving $20 billion in reserve. If I had to guess, Mr Robertson is wanting to make sure that there is enough in the Treasury in case COVID19 is not as finished as we think and a second wave – God forbid! – hits, in which case that is very sensible thinking.
Whilst no Fiscal Budget ever pleases EVERYONE, that was more so the case today. So many people and industrial sectors needing significant help and simply not enough money to help them all, whilst still having enough in the Treasury for a rainy day situation in 2021. Also New Zealand is very vulnerable at the moment. We are busy trying to deal with a damaging economic hit caused by a pandemic that has already taken nearly 5% off the economy, so should we have a major disaster like an earthquake or large volcanic eruption, it would be catastrophic.
Whilst not on the Government’s agenda, there are other ways we could help grow the fiscal pie, which the Government needs to consider in the near future:
- Increase investment in research, science and technology to 2% of G.D.P. – with money being prioritized for medicine, renewable energy, alternatives to finite resources
- Bringing back a permanent nation wide apprenticeship scheme
- Legalize cannabis and establish the industry in poorer regions such as Gisborne, Northland and the West Coast
- Redefine infrastructure as energy, railways, merchant marine, and invest accordingly instead of just building roads
So whilst the Government has played a largely welcome Budget in 2020, as always there are things that it could have improved on or been willing to give a try. Many New Zealanders want to see meaningful socio-economic change and are sick of the neoliberal model that only supports the very wealthy, and those with greater means than others. This cannot happen if the Government is not prepared to make changes.