At the time of writing this column, Budget 2017 was a few days away from being delivered. By the time you read this, we would have known about (Finance Minister) Steven Joyce’s priorities for our economy and society.
Therefore, I thought that it might be helpful to sketch out Labour’s vision for the Budget that we should have so that you, our dear reader, can compare the different priorities that are on offer:
Measuring what counts
When MPs receive their Budget documents on Thursday, May 25, the paperwork will run to thousands of pages. Hundreds of tables and columns of numbers will describe where the government is planning to spend roughly $80 billion of revenue it receives.
All of this can obscure the fact that the Budget has a real impact on people’s lives.
Housing, healthcare, and education that millions of New Zealanders receive will be directly determined, or influenced by decisions made in the Budget.
As such, Labour believes that our measurements of budgetary success are too narrow.
Of course, we need to know how much the economy has grown, and what the fiscal surplus or deficit would be; to take an example, Labour thinks that it is equally important to know how many New Zealand children live in poverty and whether government policies are making a difference.
It all goes to determine the purpose of our economy. Labour says that the economy should serve the needs of the people.
We will measure the real outcomes that matter in our society, and hold ourselves accountable to them.
True fiscal responsibility
It is essential that any government manages the books responsibly.
Labour ran strong surpluses every year when last in government, paid down debt, and saved for New Zealand’s future through the ‘Cullen Superannuation Fund.’
We will do it again. True fiscal responsibility is not just presenting a fiscal surplus today; it is about planning for the future.
Labour has committed to restoring contributions to the ‘Cullen Superannuation Fund’ (which were cut by National back in 2009) so that we can fund Super for New Zealanders in the decades to come.
Labour is also committed to establishing a politically independent body to oversee our commitment to fiscal responsibility, something no other government has been willing to do.
Housing and Infrastructure
There is no bigger crisis in New Zealand today than our shambolic housing market.
New Zealanders are being locked out of home ownership, rents are soaring, and our reputation for egalitarian mixed communities is threatened.
Labour’s Budget would start to make housing affordable again.
We will establish ‘Affordable Housing Authority’ to build 100,000 affordable houses over ten years, with half to be built in Auckland. These homes will be sold to first home buyers at no profit, with the proceeds from each year funding the build for the following year.
At the same time, we will stop rampant speculation in our housing market by banning offshore speculation in existing housing, and stopping negative gearing (which helps speculators out-bid genuine home buyers).
Labour will also make the infrastructure investments we desperately need, starting with high quality public transport to unclog Auckland’s roads.
Healthcare and Education
While the government will boast of achieving a small fiscal surplus this year, they have achieved this by creating deficits in our social services.
Labour’s Budget would invest in the high-quality healthcare and education that New Zealanders expect and deserve.
We will increase funding to local schools so that they are not constantly having to fundraise to fund basic needs.
In healthcare, we will reverse National’s cuts to hospital budgets and invest in high quality mental health services, starting with mental health nurses in every school.
It is a national scandal that over 500 people (many of them young) kill themselves in our country every year.
Labour’s Budget will prioritise people and will take steps to address this tragedy.
No single Budget can instantly fix every problem that we face, but Labour’s fresh ideas will take action on the issues that really affect people’s lives.
New Zealand is the best country in the world and with a Labour government after September 23, 2017, we will unlock opportunity for every person who lives here.
Michael Wood is elected Member of Parliament from Mount Roskill and is Labour Party’s Spokesman for Revenue, Ethnic Communities and Consumer Affairs.