A Budget recap and a warning not to expect a barrow-load of election baubles were the messages Finance Minister Bill English had for Wanganui businesspeople last night.
Mr English was guest speaker at Wanganui Employers' Chamber of Commerce function and, while he highlighted key aspects of his latest fiscal forecast, he emphasised that voters should not expect a spending spree in the run-up to the election this year.
While the economy was in good heart, his job was to think beyond the immediate drivers, such as the boom created by the Christchurch rebuild, and how to "raise the speed limit of the economy" after the rebuild was over.
Wages would rise in the next four years to an average $62,000, "and for each household those are significant numbers. But it's about steady rather than spectacular growth."
He said the Government would still like to see Kiwis save more, and while the country's savings rate had improved after the global financial crisis in 2008, Treasury experts were suggesting the country could easily slip back to saving less and spending too much.
"In 10 years' time we'll know if they're right, but I'm optimistic and I'm backing people to save," Mr English said.
But he told his audience that while this year's Budget delivered "a wafer-thin" surplus, the Government could not and would not go on a spending spree, even with an election on the horizon.
That said, New Zealand was better placed than many other developed countries, he said.
"We've got choices that we'll be able to make in the next decade that other countries would not be able to think of making, such is the level of their debt.
"The point is we've come through a recession and we're in pretty good shape."
Questioned about the impact of exchange rates on the economy, particularly in rural centres such as Wanganui, Mr English acknowledged they were too high.
He said, however, that as commodity prices levelled off and the US economy picked up, it would improve.
"But we can't pick what level that rate will be. No one can.
"Meantime, what we can do is focus on things we can control, and one of those is our own internal competitiveness in our businesses," he said.
To another question, he said communities should not expect the Government "to bail them out".
"Get good at what you're doing and keep getting better at it. The risk is also in letting pressures get on top of a positive attitude."
And there was a signal that those living in Auckland's super city should expect to pay more for living there.
"We want to ensure that much of the cost in that growth is borne by those living there. Auckland can't keep coming back to Government with its hand out," Mr English said.