There's always the same Budget ritual for the Finance Minister of a Labour-led Government. Somewhere there's a business breakfast to go to, attended by the bigwigs of the corporate world. Like the royal wedding, these occasions are for an elite bunch, no riff-raff.

Over bacon and eggs, coffee and champagne, a Labour Party Finance Minister will talk about fundamentals, debt-to-GDP ratios, growth forecasts, and makes repeated assurances that the Government is listening to business.

This budget was no different, with Grant Robertson fronting both pre-Budget and post-Budget breakfasts with business leaders.

Read more: Vaughan Gunson: Talk of compulsory te reo Māori got me thinking
Vaughan Gunson: What should New Zealanders be wishing for on the Korean Peninsula?
Vaughan Gunson: Israel Folau's 'they will go to hell for their sins' post more concerning than bigotry toward gay people

You kind of wonder, though, if a Finance Minister in a National Government had to do something similar. That in those days after delivering the Budget they had to nervously front up at a Council of Trade Unions conference attended by delegates of workers from around the country.

Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance, addresses business leaders at a Westpac breakfast ahead of the Labour Government's first Budget.
Grant Robertson, Minister of Finance, addresses business leaders at a Westpac breakfast ahead of the Labour Government's first Budget.

At that meeting of assembled union members they said things like: "That tax cut we gave to the rich was really only very small, they'll hardly notice it."

"Aren't you pleased we lifted the minimum wage again by 20 per cent and reduced class sizes by providing increased funding for schools?"

"The fundamentals of a fair and decent society are in place," this Finance Minister would say. "We plan to stabilise inequality over the next year and reduce it in the years ahead.
There's no need for working New Zealanders to be concerned, we're listening to you."

The problem with this alternative scenario, unfortunately, is that the National Party doesn't fear working people in the way that Labour fears big business, in particular, the banks and the international financial markets, which if they don't like what a government is doing can get very disruptive.

National in this respect has it easy, Labour, on the other hand, has to straddle the fence, keeping a foot in the camp of their supporters but making sure the powerful business community is placated, also.

And so the same pattern is repeatedly played out. Labour promises in opposition and then underwhelms in government.

The increases to education and health spending in the 2018 Budget are hardly enough to keep pace with inflation and population growth.

I mean, it's better than what we would've got under National, but it's not the game changer many voters hoped for.


To make a real difference in health and education would require the Government to borrow more (which it has ruled out) or do the more sensible thing and raise taxes on the wealthy, like a new top tax rate for high-income earners.

Or how about an increase in company tax which netted more of the record profits banks are making? Oh, that's right, one of the breakfasts Robertson attended was sponsored by Westpac, so maybe not then.

You get the feeling that both National and Labour just don't fear ordinary working people enough.

To change the situation, perhaps teachers and teacher aids, nurses and midwives, cleaners and admin staff working across the public sector need join together in their demands for better pay.

Joint rallies and nationwide strike action might instil some fear in the Government. Or what about a hīkoi of angry public sector workers arriving on the steps of parliament?

■ Vaughan Gunson is a writer and poet interested in social justice and big issues facing the planet.