Jacinda Ardern won the centre vote when she romped home with a majority on election night. But it’s beneficiaries, students and Māori – the traditional voter base of the left – who won this year’s Budget lottery, writes political editor Jo Moir.
What about middle New Zealand?
It’s an easy and obvious cry from National and ACT, but not an unwarranted question.
The winners and losers in this Budget – Grant Robertson’s first as an unshackled Finance Minister with no pesky coalition partner to please – are exactly what you’d expect from an unleashed Labour Government.
Righting the wrongs, repairing the damage of Ruth Richardson’s ‘Mother of all Budgets’ 30 years ago – call it what you like, but Robertson’s centre piece this year is a $3.3 billion welfare boost.
All main benefits will increase by $20 a week from July 1 this year.
And then in April a second wave of increases will come, which will boost benefit levels by between $32 and $55 per adult, per week.
On top of that, families and whānau with children will get an additional top-up of $15 per adult a week.
Students will also be celebrating (next year at least) when allowances and loans for living costs increase by $25 a week.
With unemployment expected to drop to 4.2 percent in 2024, a new safety net is being worked up for those who are still vulnerable to losing their job.
Robertson has announced Business NZ and the Council of Trade Unions are jointly designing an ACC-style scheme that would mean workers who lose their job would retain about 80 percent of their income for a period that is yet to be determined.
No money was allocated in the Budget for that, but the work is underway after Labour signalled it in its election commitments.
The Labour Government has a significant mandate from Māori, holding six of the seven seats, and the largest number of Māori ministers in Cabinet.
On that basis it’s unsurprising that more than $1 billion has been allocated to Māori in this Budget.
The Māori Health Authority, announced by Health Minister Andrew Little as part of wider health reforms last month, has triggered a controversial – and for some, uncomfortable – debate about separatism.
Today’s Budget set aside $115.9 million to get the authority and iwi/Māori partnership boards established and up and running by July 1 next year.
How much money the authority will get to provide kaupapa Māori services is a work in progress.
Māori housing has also received a dedicated ring-fenced allocation of $350 million for infrastructure projects to support Māori and iwi housing providers.
That’s alongside a further $380 million set aside for papakāinga housing, affordable rentals, transitional homes and repairs.
The Prime Minister was careful with her words when addressing questions about what was in the Budget for middle New Zealand.
She said voters, no matter who they backed at the last election, want to see children “thrive and fulfil their potential’’.
“They see need in the same way we do. Regardless, people see the cost that poverty brings to bear, not only on children and families, but the economy.’’
Asked what middle New Zealand can actually point to as a win, Ardern said investment in infrastructure.
And with that investment – whether it be in health, education, housing or transport – jobs and a pipeline of work come with it, Ardern said.
Every Budget delivers or disillusions voters; Ardern will be banking on those who left National in 2020 and flocked to Labour siding with her on doing right by kids.