The Opposition says it's nothing more than what they were doing when they were in Government. The Government says it's a whole new way of understanding the progress of the nation, but there won't be any radical restructuring, at least not yet. What should we really expect from the world's first "Wellbeing Budget"?
Here's a list of 10 things. They're not the biggest or the most important things. They're certainly not the only things. Some are simple cheap policies: easy wins. Others involve deep structural change.
They're all litmus tests. A sample of the things a New Zealand Government genuinely committed to economic, environmental, social and cultural "wellbeing" would do - should do - right now, if it was digging itself in for the task of long-term transformation.
1. Water in schools
The Ministry of Health, working through district health boards, has a programme for encouraging schools to allow only water (and low-fat milk) in schools. This Government and the last have both supported it. But many schools have not taken it up.
What the hell? Removing sugary drinks from schools has proven health benefits, and it's almost a cost-free policy. Could the Government even find a better signal of its good intent? Allocate it one dollar and do it already.
2. Mandatory Homestar ratings
The Government introduced Healthy Homes Standards for rental properties last year. But much-anticipated reform of the Building Code has not yet followed. Meanwhile, requirements for warm, dry homes remain lower in New Zealand than in Britain, Australia and many other similar countries.
Homestar, run by the Green Building Council, sets standards for energy efficiency, warmth, water waste and materials – which makes it an effective tool to attack both of the Government's principal targets: poverty and the climate crisis.
It's not the only option, but agencies like Housing NZ and Auckland Council's Panuku already use it, so what's the problem? Why hasn't the private sector been brought into line?
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3. Big new domestic violence campaign
It scarcely seems believable, but a good 40 per cent of police time is spent on incidents of domestic harm. That implies we need a ground-up rethink of who we are and what our police are for.
Why doesn't the Government pay the All Blacks to front a campaign on what it means to be a man? Start with teenage boys in school.
4. Vaccination rollout
It's true the anti-vax movement has slowed vaccination rates among children. But the bigger problem is that some district health boards have allowed rates to fall in marginalised communities by not devoting enough resources to the getting rates up.
Only 88 per cent of 5-year-olds, in the most recent Ministry of Health report, were fully vaccinated. That sounds high but it's not. To get "herd immunity" for deadly but preventable diseases like measles, we need 90-95 per cent vaccination.
The budget should ring-fence funds to get it done. It's the poor who're missing out, especially in rural areas, and that means Māori.
5. Raise the benefit levels
Is it embarrassing to this Government that the only time the real value of core benefit levels has been raised since 1991 was in 2008, under National?
The Welfare Expert Advisory Group, with membership from across the political spectrum, told the Government last December that core benefits should rise by up to 47 per cent. The Government finally released the report in early May and said, yeah nah.
That 47 per cent figure is damning: it implies we have simply cut beneficiaries adrift. It cannot be left untouched.
6. Snap the teachers' strike
Who isn't in despair over the teachers' strike? On both sides, and with what looks like wide public support, there's agreement that teachers need a far better deal – both in terms of what we expect of them and how well they're paid.
So how come they aren't all locked into an inspiring process of working out how to achieve that? Seriously, you could design that as an open forum, with sector reps, community reps, academics and actual teachers, working together to create a new model of how we value teachers and what we expect them to do.
Make the whole thing public, televise bits of it, to encourage wide debate. Have them report directly to the PM. Give them a year and make the recommendations happen in Budget 2020.
7. Literacy in prison
Literacy sets you free. Literally. In 2016 the Corrections Department assessed most prisoners and found 63 per cent of them were functionally illiterate and 27 per cent were in "critical need' of education.
There are now many programmes in prisons to address this, but they're almost all organised by voluntary groups like the Howard League for Penal Reform. They do a great job, but why isn't the rollout systematic, comprehensive and central to the function of prisons?
8. Free driver education in schools
Staggering fact: for most people in the corrections system, their first encounter with the law was over a driving offence. Didn't have a licence, like as not. A driving licence makes you a safer driver and a more productive citizen. It's required for many jobs. For most people, driving is an essential life skill. School is the perfect place to teach it.
9. Light rail in Auckland
What's happening with light rail in Auckland? Nothing, that's what, and it's preposterous. Officials in Wellington have derailed the whole project because they do not grasp the future of rapid transit or an essential point of their jobs: to implement Government policy.
Materially advancing this programme, right now, is critical to relieving road congestion. It's also critical to the city doing its bit about the climate crisis – townies can't lecture farmers about emissions if we don't commit to public transport.
10. A whole-of-government approach to climate crisis
Homestar and transport are just the beginning. Fronting up to the climate crisis is a job for the whole of government, all of the time.
That means energy efficiency should be front and centre in the Government's building programme, for new schools and all other construction. It's the same with regional development policies and the integrated port and freight strategy.
For some reason we like to think we're leading the world on climate change. But building codes in Australia are superior to ours. Emissions targets in Britain are too. We have no commitment at all to electrifying our vehicle fleet, and no plan for generating enough electricity through renewables to allow us to do so.
What we do have, though, is a sound approach to transition. The prototype was rolled out in Taranaki this month, at the Just Transitions Summit. This budget has to show how the climate crisis is working its way into the middle of economic planning. And it needs to build on that summit. Everyone together, working on better ways to exist in this place.