Transcript of the pre-Budget conversation between the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
Prime Minister: Right, so next Thursday - you may not have clocked this yet, but it’s been on our political calendar for some time – is Budget Day. It’s a huge opportunity for us to really set down the foundations for our future, for New Zealand’s future, and I have with me the Minister of Finance and a couple of questions I’m going to put to him. These haven’t been pre-prepared so we’ll see how he goes!
[To Minister Robertson] I’m giving you a chance here to let the good people of New Zealand know what they can expect in the Budget without any spoilers.
Minister Robertson: I guess the main thing for people to think about is that the Budget is kind of the plan for the Government for this year, particularly, coming up but also for the next two years beyond that as well. It’s a chance for us to put out the main key areas of spending that we have and plus the new initiatives that we’re putting in place. So it’s basically a plan and a budget like a household budget.
Prime Minister: Those big areas of spending, can you give us some –
Grant: You’ll just have to wait, Jacinda!
Jacinda: Well, I won’t.
Minister Robertson: So, look, a major focus for us is the rebuilding of the public services that people use every day – so the health system, our hospitals, our schools, making sure that we’ve got quality housing; that mantra around health and housing and education, which we talked about a lot in the election campaign. That’s what you’ll see come through in this Budget. It really builds on the mini Budget we did before Christmas where we put in place the Families Package, which starts to roll out from the first of July and is going to put money in the pockets of low- and middle-income families, and this is now the Budget that says let’s get the foundations of our economy and our society right.
Prime Minister: I’m going to ask the question that I’ve been asked and I’m always happy to answer. We’re aiming to deliver a surplus with this Budget. Why is that important while, at the same time, we do need to rebuild all of those important services like health and education, like making sure we’ve got the housing we need?
Minister Robertson: Yeah, it’s really important for New Zealand especially to prepare for a rainy day, essentially - and we actually saw that happen in New Zealand with the Global Financial Crisis. If we can generate surpluses, that enables us to pay down the long-term debt that New Zealand has, and we have a plan to do that. We’ll be running sustainable surpluses throughout our time in Government and then reducing our debt as a Government down to a level that we think gets a balance in the economy, between making those investments that we need to and keeping some money aside.
Prime Minister: Important point there: you can have a surplus but still have debt.
Minister Robertson: That’s right. It’s a little bit like thinking about in your house. At the end of the month, you might have some money left over from your pay packet but you still owe money on a mortgage. So it’s possible to have a surplus but also have long-term debt. What it’s about is making sure that we’re reducing that debt to a level that we know is manageable should there be another global financial crisis or another earthquake. Now, as a small country, in New Zealand we’ve got to be really aware of those risks, but at the same time, we’ve found a balance in this Budget to make the investments in health, housing, education that we really need to.
Prime Minister: And you’ll see all of the details on that next Thursday, when we’ll probably be doing another one of these awkwardly unplanned videos for you. My final question for the Minister of Finance: what are you looking forward to most about next Thursday?
Minister Robertson: I am actually just really looking forward to actually being able to tell everybody what’s in the Budget, because –
Prime Minister: He’s getting really tired of that ‘you’ll just have to wait until Budget Day’ line.
Minister Robertson: Yeah. But obviously, we’re putting a few things out in advance. You saw the announcement that you [points to Jacinda] made around homelessness and the $100 million we’re putting into address that.
Prime Minister: There’s a couple more this week.
Minister Robertson: A couple more coming this week and then, yeah, I’m just really looking forward to being able to tell New Zealanders what our plan is and share with them our priorities, which I think are New Zealand’s priorities too.
Prime Minister: And we’ll have a quiet celebration of the work you’ve done. Thanks for joining us everyone! Any questions, feel free to pop them below.