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National Leader Simon Bridges is slamming the Treasury for its "no show" at the Epidemic Response Committee hearing this morning.

Treasury boss Caralee McLiesh was meant to answer questions, but she was sick today, Bridges said this morning.

Bryan Chapple, Acting Deputy Secretary Covid-19 Economic Response and AoG Economic Pillar, was also mean to front up, but he was on leave, Bridges said.

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The committee was informed about both of these things this morning, before the committee sat.

Bridges said this was "entirely unacceptable" given this is the committee's chance to scrutinise the Budget.

But in a statement McLiesh said she had appeared before the Epidemic Response Committee twice previously and would front up to MPs on another committee next month.

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In a separate press release this morning, National's finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the committee had been organised for days.

"There are 565 permanent staff at the Treasury. Despite the Clerk of the committee requesting another representative, not one person has been made available.

He said this comes on top of Finance Minister Grant Robertson withdrawing from appearing at the committee last minute when he was due to appear last Wednesday.

"A number of serious market commentators have made time to appear at today's committee – all wanting to know how the Treasury came to its forecasts, which appear highly optimistic."

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After the committee's hearing this morning, Treasury released a statement about the no-show.

"Secretary to the Treasury Caralee McLiesh is unwell and Struan Little, Deputy Secretary Budget and Public Investment, is on leave this week.

"We contacted the committee clerk early this morning to advise that we were unable to attend and have been working with the clerk to find an alternative time later in the week to appear before the committee."

The statement said that the Treasury has also offered to provide written answers to questions they may have in the meantime.

Act leader David Seymour agreed with Bridges when it comes to Treasury's no-show this morning.

"This is now an emerging pattern for 'the most open and transparent government in New Zealand's history'," he said.

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"The Opposition can't hold the Government to account if officials and ministers won't publicly front up.

Worry about NZ's rising debt

Meanwhile, Bagrie Economics chief economist Cameron Bagrie said he was worried about New Zealand's rising debt levels.

By 2024, net core crown debt is expected to double to $200 billion, to help pay for the Covid-19 recovery.

Robertson has maintained that even at these levels of debt, as a proportion of GDP New Zealand is still below where a lot of economies are at now.

He named checked the US and the UK on Thursday.

But Bagrie said New Zealand needed to stop "patting itself on the back, saying it's okay to take on more debt" just because other countries are too.

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New Zealand, he told the committee this morning, is in a different situation to those economies – they are all a better credit risk, meaning paying back New Zealand's debt will cost more in the long term.

Treasury Secretary Dr Caralee McLiesh during her appearance before the finance and expenditure committee at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Treasury Secretary Dr Caralee McLiesh during her appearance before the finance and expenditure committee at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He said the Government needs to make some tough decisions to help bring that debt level down.

For example, he said the Government needed to sell some of its assets, like the state-owned electricity companies.

Unless dramatic moves like this are taken, he said taxes will need to be raised.

In terms of how much all the new debt will cost New Zealand in the long term, Bagrie was pessimistic.

He told the committee the cost of paying back the debt by 2034 will be more than the Government's education spending.

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"Will be more spent on finance costs than law and order, defence and core government services combined."

Covid-19: Who will pay for recovery?

Bagrie said the Government was right to be spending so much money to help stimulate the economy.

But, although interest rates are low now - meaning it costs less to borrow money - this won't be the case forever.

He said by 2030, the cost of the aging population will start to take a toll as well.

Bagrie said that people in high school now will have to deal with the "cost of Covid, and the cost of the baby boomers".

He said he would have liked to see some more "sacrifices" in the Budget.

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For example, there needed to be more reprioritising of funds – the money from KiwiBuild, he said, should have been allocated to the Covid-19 response.

"Covid – go big and go hard," he told committee members.

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Submitting to the committee today are:

• Cameron Bagrie, chief economist of Bagrie Economics
• Dr Bryce Wilkinson, Senior Fellow of the NZ Initiative
• Phil O'Reilly, partner of Iron Duke
• Michael Barnett, Chief Executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce