"What's the price of smokes?" When I was a kid that was usually the only question that needed answering in my house after the budget. How much was the price of cigarettes going up. I can remember watching the budget on TV, waiting to hear how much ciggies would be. That was all I thought budgets were. The price of smokes.
It's ironic now that back then the only thing that I paid attention to was a thing that was so bad for you, and now we're in 2019 and the Government is touting this budget as the "wellbeing" budget.
There's been a lot of criticism of this Government for not being transformational enough. I've been one of those critics. And I'll continue to be one of those critics but I'll also praise them when I think they're taking us in a good direction.
John Key used to talk a lot about "NZ Inc". As though New Zealand was just another business to run that needed a good healthy return to investors. And so his government made sure that those with the biggest portfolios would get the biggest returns. I'm delighted we have a government that doesn't view New Zealand as just a business. We're a collection of human beings and so the idea of a wellbeing budget appeals to me. So long as the things they do are really targeted at making us well.
The excesses of capitalism has meant that there is a widening gap between those who benefit from the system and those who are being deliberately screwed by it. If this budget can go towards recalibrating the economy and the environment so that they are not rigged against us then they'll be doing alright.
Just quite what wellbeing means is a bit of a Rorschach test. My version of being well might be very different to your version. That said, I've created a shopping list of things that I think should be in a "wellbeing" budget if we think of "wellbeing" as something for the whole country, rather than me.
Firstly we're not going to be well at all if we don't get on and make really serious meaningful change around the climate emergency. We need to start taxing or heavily regulating those 100 companies who are responsible for over 70 per cent of harmful global emissions. A big wad of funding needs to go to green tech.
Next off we need to adopt a few more of the welfare review's recommendations. I'd love to see a sizeable increase to the benefit. This would mean that people who rely on state funding just to survive can do more than just survive. In fact in many instances, the current benefit levels don't even allow them to do that.
Mental health is a massive problem in New Zealand. It became quite a major election issue. It's nearly two years after the election and after completing its mental health review, the
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Government has started a pilot scheme giving free mental health treatment to young people in the Wellington region but this barely scratches the surface. We need more funding for mental health treatment all around the country and we need it for all ages.
Could we also look at giving our teachers, nurses and midwives a decent wedge? I know that some of those occupations have "resolved" their payment issues but as the child of two teachers and as someone who was helped by a midwife in the last 12 months I can tell you right now that those are underappreciated professions. They work very very hard and do not get anywhere near the compensation they deserve. And not only that but can we invest in training more of all those professions so the people who are doing them don't have to be horrendously overworked?
In fact investment in training schemes would be a good way to go. It would potentially give purpose to people who might be drifting and help their mental health. It would help solve some skills shortages and it would contribute to making New Zealand a more productive country. Especially if we were training people in doing things like working on solar technology or other industries that will help with the climate emergency.
All those who think our success can be measured by a GDP score or business confidence probably won't like a wellbeing budget. But they need to get over it. Besides, you help those in need and it lifts those up from the bottom and it helps everyone. It's almost like there's a trickle up effect.
This year's budget has a lot more interest to me than just the price of smokes. I hope that people will get a feeling that this government cares about people. I hope that this government can demonstrate it does. It hope it does well. We all should.
• David Cormack has worked for the Labour and Green parties and interned for Bill English while studying.