Budget 2021: What I want to see – Paula Bennett, Sue Bradford, Neale Jones and Jon Stokes

We asked political veterans from the left and the right to give us their Budget 2021 wish-lists. They’ll be back after the Budget with their verdicts too.

Paula Bennett

For the country and our economy to get moving, for the good of all New Zealanders, we need the private and public sector to work more closely together and for the Government to give business some certainties.

The Budget should have an actual plan for how and on what the infrastructure money will be spent. The money is well needed, but without a plan for how and when to spend it we are years away from the housing and transport development we need.

I believe it is time to implement a government-backed shared equity scheme for first-home buyers – previous governments have looked at it – Labour could implement it.

I would also like to see significant funding for Community Housing Providers. They know how to work with the homeless and those struggling better than anyone – fund them appropriately to build homes and provide wraparound services.

Lastly on housing, use the powers of rezoning, support high density in the right areas, use the private sector more and get Treasury to sort out running effective PPPs [public-private partnerships].

I would like to see a freeze on increasing the minimum wage beyond CPI for the next two years to give small business time to catch up from the hit the economy has taken – and tell them now so they can budget themselves accordingly.

Lastly, increase funding for Pharmac, including a special rare diseases fund. There are special people in NZ who don’t get access to the drugs they should because their drugs are expensive and the disease they have is rare. In the scheme of things a bit of money would go a long way to extend their lives.

Paula Bennett is a former deputy PM, former deputy leader of the National Party and former National MP for Upper Harbour.

Sue Bradford

What is needed in today’s Budget is a major and meaningful shift in Government’s spending on welfare, health and housing. Instead of playing around on the edges of the homeless and health crises and lifting benefits by amounts that are clawed away as soon as they’re announced, I’d love to see Grant Robertson reject austerity and shape a path forward that would restore to Labour the mana of its 1930s forebears.

All income support should be lifted substantively, including that provided to adults living with sickness and disability. A benefit rise of less than $100-$150 per week across the board will mean little, and even less if all that results is a reduction in other allowances and supplements.

A serious investment in improving physical and mental health services across urban and rural communities without sleight of hand or endless foot-dragging bureaucratisation is urgently required.

And on the housing front any real awareness of the compounding desperation and sheer numbers of people without adequate or any housing seems to elude the Government. This Budget should create a state agency with the resources and mandate to fast-track the acquisition of land and the building of houses itself, in a way and at a rate that prioritises ending homelessness rather than cutting deals with private developers. Resources and enabling legislation are also needed to allow the full potential of papakāinga and other tangata whenua and community-based housing initiatives to be released.

It would be great to see this Budget focus on effectively dealing with what really matters in the here and now, rather than descend into some kind of quasi-panic over paying down debt.

Sue Bradford is an activist, academic, and former list MP representing the Green Party.

Neale Jones

With a rare Labour majority in Parliament, an opposition in bewildering disarray and billions more in the books than expected, Grant Robertson will probably never have a better opportunity to tackle the big crises facing our country than he will in the Budget.

There will of course be signals to fiscal restraint, both because of the uncertain economic outlook and to assuage the former National voters who switched to Labour in 2020 and who tell focus groups they’re worried about debt. But the reality is New Zealand’s debt, at 33 per cent of GDP, is only a third the OECD average and record low interest rates mean servicing it is cheaper than ever.

Instead of worrying about debt, the Budget’s focus should be on economic stimulus and ensuring we build back better from Covid.

That means decarbonisation on a massive scale: more investment in public transport, incentives for businesses and households to take up EVs and for industrial polluters to convert process heat away from fossil fuels.

It means more money to build state houses.

And crucially, it means a significant increase in benefits. This is not easy politically. The swing voters who decide elections tend to hold deeply regressive views towards beneficiaries. Both Labour and National know this, which is why we have levels of poverty and deprivation that should shame any decent society.

But if the Covid wage subsidy taught us anything, it’s that any one of us can fall on hard times due to circumstances outside our control.

Let’s hope Robertson takes the opportunity he has been handed.

Neale Jones is the director of Capital Government Relations. He previously served as chief of staff to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and former leader Andrew Little. His clients’ interests include both EVs and conventional industry.

Jon Stokes

Of the many areas of high interest for Māori in this year’s Budget, the increasingly unicorn status of “affordable housing” will be most keenly anticipated. What support will be available to help ease the crushing creep of home and rent inflation for Māori? How will the Government work with iwi and urban Māori organisations to ease the crippling pressures of housing whānau and getting on to the property ladder, while ensuring it is fair and benefiting as many as possible rather than a lucky few?

With the average New Zealand house price topping $900,0000 last month, an increase of more than 21 per cent, increasingly unaffordable homes are felt more acutely by Māori, who earn less and are less likely to own a home. The latest Trade Me Property data released last month showed median rents nationwide had jumped by 6 per cent, to $540 a week. No wonder Māori are estimated to make up 40 per cent of the country’s swelling homeless.

Eyes will be on Willie Jackson, a former union organiser who is the key negotiator for the Labour Māori caucus for Budget wins. This will be Jackson’s first as Minister of Māori Development, so expectation will be high that he has hammered out appropriate gains that match the support for Labour shown by Māori at last year’s election.

There were reports of a stoush between Jackson and co and Housing Minister Megan Woods around the level of funding for Māori in housing in this budget – we will see who won this clash shortly.

Jon Stokes is a strategy and communications adviser to Māori and iwi organisations and a former NZ Herald reporter on Māori issues.

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