Robertson charts a new course for public accountability

But National Party remains unimpressed

Venkat Raman

New Zealand has adopted a new approach that underscores its fiscal policy and ensure the progress and prosperity of people, Finance Minister has said.

Raising Standards

Describing the approach as the ‘Living Standards Framework,’ he said that the Wellbeing Budget that he presented to Parliament on May 30, 2019 was ‘the essential first step.’

Delivering the Ninth Annual Indian Newslink Lecture yesterday (Monday, July 29, 2019) at Pullman Hotel in Auckland, he said that the ‘Framework’ was developed by the Treasury.

For full text of his speech, please visit www.indiannewslink.co.nz.

“This is based around the Four Capitals, or Stocks of Wellbeing, Financial/Physical, Human, Natural and Social. Or, to put it into non economist speak- our money, our people, our environment and our communities,” he said.

The Year’s theme of the Lecture was ‘Good Financial Management contributes to Good Governance,’ and Mr Robertson said, ‘Good Government means Good Governance.’

Expanding his theme of ‘Four Capitals,’ Mr Robertson said that getting them in balance and harmony, strengthening them all now and into the future is the essence of wellbeing.

Sixty Measures

“And to back that up, the Framework has around 60 measures of Wellbeing. These range from the traditional such as levels of income, employment and home ownership, to the more subjective such as life satisfaction, connection to community and culture,” he said.

Mr Robertson said that in preparing the Budget, he had used the Framework to decide on priorities, with internal and external advice.

He defined Mental Health, Child Wellbeing, Addressing Disparities for Maori and Pacific peoples, Building a more productive nation and a Sustainable economy, in particular meeting the challenges and taking the opportunities related to climate change as the priorities of his government and Budget 2019.

“At each stage of the Budget process we focused on two important elements- how to break down the silos of government and what would have the biggest impact on future generations.

If there is one thing that will erode trust in government, it is the inability of government to work together,” he said.

Individuals do not wake up in the morning and think about each of the government departments they need to deal with, yet that is how we have been structured and organised, he said and cited Mental Health and Domestic Violence as examples.

Accountability and Transparency

Mr Robertson said he and his government subscribed to the concept of Honesty, Integrity, Accountability and Transparency as the ingredients of Good Governance and said that there were checks and balances all around the government machinery.

“Every month we produce accounts for the government, every six months we do a full assessment of the what and the how of our spending, every year the Parliament debates every line of expenditure. This does not happen everywhere in the world, and we are fortunate that it is embedded into our law. And the careful fiscal management that is also embedded into the law has served us well through a succession of government as we faced the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and natural disasters,” he said.

But none of these found favour with National Party Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith, who gave his assessment under ‘Reflections’ at the Lecture.

Quoting a Statement of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor, he said that the New Zealand economy witnessed a sharp decline in the second half of 2018.

“Growth has dropped to somewhere in the low 2 to 2.5 per cent range. On a per person basis, it’s barely moving. If it continues there will be fewer opportunities for Kiwis. We could be back in deficit within two years, which would be a calamitous outcome,” he said.

Unproductive spending

He accused the government of burning hundreds of millions of dollars on free tertiary fees for fewer students and the Provincial Growth Fund as well as the $2 billion disastrous KiwiBuild that was supposed to deliver 10,000 houses a year.

“The government has delivered 200 houses in two years,” Mr Goldsmith said.

But later, answering a question, Mr Robertson countered the argument saying that the coalition government has built more houses than any other government in the last 30 years.

His argument was that these may not have been under the ‘KiwiBuild Scheme’ but as State Houses and other buildings.

Mr Goldsmith said that the government is no longer interested in oil and gas, gold, dairy and international students.

“We don’t really want foreign investors. Then every month they add new costs – fuel taxes, car taxes, industrial relations changes, taxes on landlords. We are living in very strange times. Right now, about $12.5 trillion in securities are returning a negative yield,” Mr Goldsmith said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff was the Master of Ceremonies at the Lecture. Labour MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan outlined the principles of the Indian Newslink Lecture series in her Welcome Address, while former Labour MP Dr Rajen Prasad presented the concluding remarks.

*

  1. Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivering the Ninth Annual Indian Newslink Lecture on Monday, July 29, 2019 at Pullman Hotel, Auckland
  2. Former Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor and Leader of National and ACT Dr Don Brash and Senior Government Whip Michael Wood at the Ninth Annual Indian Newslink Lecture on Monday, July 29, 2019 at Pullman Hotel, Auckland

(Pictures by Narendra Bedekar, Creative Eye Fotographics)

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