The Budget week games have begun with the Opposition accusing the Government of economic mismanagement, while Prime Minister Chris Hipkins slated National’s big plan to provide taxpayer receipts as showing they had their “priorities all wrong”.
Hipkins was in a chipper mood at his weekly post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, perhaps buoyed on by Sunday night’s Newshub Reid Research poll that had the left bloc still able to form a Government despite a week of turmoil within Labour.
Not even a chunk of ice stuck in his throat momentarily as he took a sip of water could take the smile off his face. The poll also showed Hipkins continuing to outshine Christopher Luxon with voters, sitting at 23.4 per cent in the preferred Prime Minister stakes compared to 16.4 per cent for the National Party leader.
“I think what it says is that New Zealanders want to know that the Government has focused on the most important issues facing them at the moment, which is the cost of living and the recovery from the cyclone - they clearly can see that that is where my focus is.”
The Government will on Thursday deliver Budget 2023, unveiling spending priorities for the next year and beyond.
It has already announced a further $1 billion would support regions hit by Cyclone Gabrielle, leaving addressing the cost of living the likely focus on Thursday in what is shaping up to be the major political issue before the election in October.
The Budget has already been spun as “no frills” and “balanced” by the Government in an attempt to paint a picture of fiscal restraint.
Hipkins has already ruled out “major” tax changes, including a capital gains tax and a wealth tax in this Budget.
Already a reported $4 billion over the next four years has been reprioritised from canned projects not deemed current priorities.
Delivering his pre-Budget speech on Monday, Luxon took aim at the Government’s spending and focused on how a future National Government would prioritise fiscal discipline.
The former Air New Zealand chief executive laid out three initiatives, including “taxpayers’ receipts”, requirements for Treasury to report on performance, and performance pay for public sector chief executives.
“I am sick of taxpayers being treated like a bottomless ATM, to be raided at any time, for any reason,” Luxon told an Auckland business audience.
“Four months out from an election, Chris Hipkins has all of a sudden discovered that actually controlling and being disciplined spending of taxpayer money is actually important,” Luxon said.
“Well, it’s always been important.”
Luxon said the receipts would come from Inland Revenue and allow people to find out exactly what their taxes were paying for and any Government payments received.
A similar concept was floated by the Act Party in 1998 but rejected by the then National-led Government.
Hipkins meanwhile said National was proposing to spend money on sending 4.3 million “spin doctory” letters to people explaining where their tax dollars are going.
He said people could already check with IRD about how much tax they paid and there were already accountability measures for spending.
“It’s kind of a bit like pledging to bring back the bank statement really.”
He said that given everything happening at the moment around the cost of living, if National’s big idea was essentially to send a bank statement to people, they have “got their priorities all wrong”.
Hipkins said it would also ultimately involve needing to hire people to do the work when National has also proposed to slash public servants and consultants.
He said he was “very proud” of his first Budget while occupying the 9th floor, but also wouldn’t divulge any more details before Thursday.
“Three more sleeps,” Hipkins said.
Speaking on the poll result, Hipkins said it was clear the public wanted the Government to be focused on the issues that mattered rather than political scandal.
Closer to the election and once platforms had been set out, Hipkins said he would be more clear on who they had common ground with.
On Te Pāti Māori, the Prime Minister said they had shared views on things like social policy and education and health, dealing with underlying causes of socioeconomic disadvantage.
Earlier on Monday, Hipkins and Education Minister Jan Tinetti announced the construction of 300 new classrooms and up to four new schools in a pre-Budget announcement.
The $300m in spending will create 6600 new student spaces. Hipkins said in 2017 they had inherited a “rundown school property portfolio”.
Since then they had spent more than $2b on renovating and building new school infrastructure.
The pre-Budget announcement followed another on Sunday of $1b to assist with the cyclone recovery.
Act Party leader David Seymour also laid out his “Alternative Budget” on Monday, proposing a two-rate income tax system and hundreds of millions of dollars to increase capacity in New Zealand prisons for both adults and young people.
It also included an increase in Defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP, like last year, which Seymour said would bring New Zealand into line with its allies.