Opinion: Yet again the incumbent government has come up with a semi-slick title for its annual budget. And once again whatever vision lay behind it is lost in the welter of small sums the finance minister spreads thinly around the country. The 2023 version is: Wellbeing Budget. Support for Today. Building for Tomorrow.
Sure enough, there’s lots more money in the budget to help people short-changed by the economy. But we’re running out of economic resources we can redistribute.
So, we must rebuild the economy, starting with the tax system. But this is yet another budget, yet another finance minister, shirking those twin responsibilities. All we get is a bit more money for science and R&D and places to do them.
Decades of that has made our economy somewhat more sophisticated. But it has generated very little more value for all people; or restoration of our natural capital on which our wealth and wellbeing are founded.
Actually, wellbeing economics is a hopeful, newish field. It seeks to ensure that a modern, high value, sustainable economy improves the lives of people and the state of the planet. A branch of the global alliance is growing here.
As it happens, Katherine Trebeck, one of the discipline’s founders, was here last week for a series of public events and meetings with senior politicians and officials. This is a link to the video of one of her public events. Disclosure: I was the MC.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson was an early evangelist for wellbeing economics, ensuring New Zealand was a founding member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership. And Treasury, reluctantly or otherwise, played its part by coming up with its Living Standards Framework, which is still hard to detect in the Budget process.
But over the course of his six Budgets, Robertson has become ever more the conservative manager and ever less the visionary leader.
This must be deeply disappointing to the many people in business and the wider community who have contributed extensively to taskforces the Government has created to map out such a future.
Take, for example, the Industry Transformation Plans which so far cover six major sectors ranging from Advanced Manufacturing to Tourism.
Robertson sharply cut the spending via the Climate Emergency Response Fund. His excuse being the sharp drop in money accruing to it from the Emissions Trading Scheme. But that was a problem this Government created by knee-capping the ETS
Oh, there’s a bit more money in this Budget for research, science and to develop facilities. But there’s nothing transformational such as accelerated depreciation that companies are calling for to help them invest in their future – and ours.
Take, for example, upgrading our existing housing stock, much of which is inadequately insulated and heated. Oh, there’s some more Government funding to help people make their homes warmer, healthier and cheaper to run.
But, says Andrew Eagles, chief executive of the NZ Green Building Counci, “spending $100 million a year on these basic home improvements is a drop in the bucket when we consider the rapid deep retrofits required for us to meet our climate targets. We should be spending $1 billion a year on this”.
Some 160 organisations have joined The Homes We Deserve campaign calling for political parties to commit to an ambitious retrofit programme for at least 200,000 homes if elected later this year.
The NZGBC says a recent poll found a third of voters would consider shifting their vote to a party promising to help them improve their inadequate homes. So it seems we voters can hold real political power.
In fact, climate actions generate public benefits across our society and economy. For example, in transport EVs reduce air pollution and traffic noise and cut running and maintenance costs; public transport reduces emissions and traffic congestion; and walking and cycling increase personal health and wellbeing.
Similarly with infrastructure, natured-based solutions for stormwater create more recreational amenities; and green infrastructure improves the wellbeing of people, communities, and landscapes.
Best of all, a sustainable, climate-compatible economy generates wealth in all its forms – economic and environmental, social and cultural.
Though we must achieve big transformations in the way we work and live to get those rewards, we gain plenty of benefits along the way.
James Shaw was the only minister to make that explicit connection in his Budget press release. “Tackling the cost of living and climate change together” was the headline.
Indeed, he is the Climate Change Minister. But every minister should have made variations on that theme of the benefits flowing from tackling our climate crisis. After all the crisis pervades every aspect of our economy and society; and the solutions, if done well and fairly, generate benefits for all.
But in this Budget, Robertson sharply cut the spending via the Climate Emergency Response Fund. His excuse being the sharp drop in money accruing to it from the Emissions Trading Scheme. But that was a problem this Government created by knee-capping the ETS, just as National had done last time it was in government.
Now every party in Parliament has shown itself incapable of climate leadership. The reasons vary from denial and timidity to incompetence.
Meanwhile, many voters are showing support for climate action. On some issues, there’s a noteworthy breadth of support to varying degrees across much of the political spectrum. One example is on clean car discounts and their counterpart, polluting vehicle fees, as Newsroom reported in March.
We can make this the Climate Election by setting the agenda politicians have to address. Here are three of the broad ways we can do so:
* Businesses can pursue enlightened self-interest, as the best opportunity they will ever have is to create a climate-compatible economy.
* Voters can clamour for the co-benefits that our climate solutions deliver.
* Leaders in all walks of life can bring people together to create a new, constructive engagement on climate, and thus a new political culture.
Let’s show politicians what a wellbeing economy really looks like; thereby giving them the courage to help us to create it.