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Possibly the best Government Budget so far for Whangārei

By Dr Emily Henderson

We've just released this year's Budget, which includes a further multimillion-dollar investment for Whangārei Hospital; a cost-of-living package; a lift to first-home buyer caps; and funding for a feasibility study for a dry dock. There's a focus on health and housing, and most importantly, it's on the front line. Budget 2022 makes the largest investment in health for more nurses, more medicines and to get the health system sorted to better focus on services.

Dental grants for low-income families will increase from $300 to $1000 and won't just be for emergency work. The Mana Ake mental health pilot will roll out in Northland schools, and there's more funding for community providers to build affordable rentals and to provide home insulation. The continued funding for apprenticeships and trades training means we will have the workforce to build the homes and other infrastructure our country needs.

Crucially, Budget 2022 also extends the $572 million allocated to our hospital last year - providing the extra needed for the first and biggest stage of the redevelopment, including an Acute Services Building, with a new emergency department, intensive care unit, radiology and theatre suite, and a new children's health unit and whānau house. It is part of the $1.3 billion the Government is committing to health infrastructure over the next two years.

We'll continue to carefully manage the books - and our careful fiscal management means we return to surplus quicker than National did after the global financial crisis. It's a hard time around the world - Covid, inflation, war. But this is a Budget that looks after Whangārei whanau as we go through it. Right now, our rate of inflation is well below Australia, the EU, the US, and the UK, which just hit an eye-watering 9 per cent. The economic outlook is good too - hourly wage rises are predicted to hit 6 per cent by next year, well above inflation.

Despite these positive indicators, things are tough right now for many families, and we'll need minimum wage increases and Fair Pay Agreements to make sure workers on low wages get their fair share. This Budget includes a new temporary payment to help Kiwis with higher food and power bills. This will benefit more than 2 million people earning up to $70,000 a year who don't already receive the Winter Energy Payment. Alongside this payment, we're tackling transport costs by extending our fuel tax cut, reducing road user charges and half-price public transport for a further two months, and making half-price public transport permanent for people on low incomes. We know we've got some way to go for working whānau on median wages, but it sure blows National's offering of $2 a week out of the water.

I've been advocating for a lift in home buyer caps locally, so am delighted that first home buyer grants of $10,000 will be within reach for more families. Whangarei caps lift from $400,000 to $600,000 for existing homes, and from $500,000 to $800,000 for new builds. House price caps for First Home Loans have been removed to provide a greater choice of homes for prospective first-home buyers.

There's also $3.7m operational funding for a study on the proposal for a Northland dry dock and $1.84m capital funding for a rescue and firefighting service at Whangārei District Airport. Mayor Sheryl Mai is thrilled: "Credit where credit is due to this Government for recognising our needs in Whangārei and being prepared to invest in them."