19 May The ‘no frills’ Wellbeing Budget: what’s in it, why, and what does it mean for the election
Chris Hipkins’ Government has unveiled its ‘no frills’ Budget for 2023. Before the books were flung open for all to see, we knew there would be an emphasis on skills, science, and infrastructure as well as easing the cost-of-living pressures faced by families this election year.
When it comes to elections, it’s not the Opposition’s to win. It’s the Government’s to lose. The Budget is a clear signal to voters what the incumbent will be focused on leading into October – and beyond if they are re-elected.
As foreshadowed through expectation management in the media in recent weeks, there was no big bang headline-grabbing announcements, with the Government instead choosing to present itself as a responsible manager of the country’s finances, with a focus on that cost-of-living crisis.
The main announcements are very much targeted at Labour’s base, and those who are most impacted by New Zealand’s cost of living crisis.
So, what’s in there, and what does it mean?
- Cheaper childcare is on the cards, with 20 hours free ECE expanded to include two-year-olds. This is smart policy that is always popular, no matter how you vote, and it’s estimated that parents not previously receiving subsidies for two-year-olds attending ECE would save an estimated $133.20 per week with this policy in place.
- $5 co-payments on prescriptions are no more after July this year.
- Transport is being targeted, with public transport made free for under 13s, and half price for under 25s.
- Power bills stand to be reduced, with 100,000 more insulation and heating retrofits.
- Three thousand homes will be added to the public housing stock.
- $6 billion in initial funding is available for a National Resilience Plan to focus on building back from recent weather events.
- $100 million for the new infrastructure delivery agency – Rau Paenga will repurpose the Christchurch rebuild agency, formerly known as Ōtākaro Limited, to help Government organisations deliver infrastructure projects.
- Funding is being boosted for Te Matatini ($34 million over two years) and ensuring Matariki is being funded into the future.
While there’s plenty in, there are some notable absences too.
There has been little new funding announced in the way of health (which is always a key area leading into elections), as last year’s Budget covered two years of funding. There has been a reiteration of the Government’s attention on “winter, waitlists and workforce” as a key issue, targeting investment towards enabling for 500 more nurses, $1 billion to increase pay rates and investment to reduce waitlists. These are key areas the public are also concerned about and will be acutely aware of as temperatures drop around the country.
There have been no new announcements for forestry, in the wake of a string of funding being announced in the wake of the Ministerial Inquiry into Land Use report. However, this will remain a key area to watch as the October vote draws closer and as the industry implements changes in cyclone-affected regions using this funding.
While the dust settles on the freshly opened Budget books, we will expect to see a frenzy of media as the Government springboards into the campaign period and clearly lays out what the priorities of Labour will be if they are re-elected.
At the same time, we should see the Opposition doing their very best to tear holes in the Budget, and particularly to try and reclaim the mantel of the party who is best at managing the country’s finances.
What it means is that with five months to go until we’re approaching the ballot boxes, the election campaign is well and truly underway.