Cunliffe: Post Budget Speech to Parliament
15 May 2014
Post Budget Speech to Parliament
I move that all words after “that” are struck from the record and replaced with “This House has no confidence in a government that has failed to put people first; that has widened gaps, where too many of our children grow up in poverty; that has failed to provide enough good jobs and has lowered incomes; a government that has no vision for our nation’s long-term wellbeing but is mired in politics as usual.”
At the end of the day, this Budget should not be about politics as usual. It shouldn’t be about National vs Labour, Left vs Right, Us and Them.
This Budget should be about those that we are here to serve. About New Zealanders; in their work; in their homes; in their families.
It should be about all of us in this country – and the opportunities that we all need to live a good life.
The Government says the economy is in recovery. Some even say it’s booming. A so-called ‘rock star’.
We ask New Zealanders: is that really true for you? Where is your recovery? Is your household budget booming? Where is your fair share?
Or are you being squeezed by higher costs and lower wages? Power, food, interest rates.
Today I want to show three simple things to Kiwis.
First, that the much-hyped fiscal surplus isn’t worth the wafers it’s written on. Smoke and mirrors.
This is a Fudge-it Budget.
Second, this Government continues to favour the few at the expense of the many.
This is not a Budget, it’s the Cabinet Club Annual Report. There’s even $1m for an Oravida stage show!
And it will take a few more things than pre-election cosmetics to fix that.
Third, we want New Zealand to be the fairest, most decent society in the world – and that will take serious, long-term change that will create genuine opportunity, reduce poverty and lift all our people up: in their work, in their homes, in the families.
THE FUDGE-IT BUDGET
National has asset stripped Housing New Zealand, taking out $90 million in dividends, stripping up to 70% of Housing New Zealand homes in our regions, and underfunding Christchurch housing.
Earthquake rebuild funding is cut by $567 million, below last year’s infrastructure budget.
ACC – at least $120 million of levy cuts have been delayed to support this year’s surplus.
New Zealand Transport Agency - an unprecedented $375m interest free loan, instead of capital expenditure. Even Treasury found this odd (and is coincidentally almost exactly the same size as the projected surplus).
Rosy 4% growth forecast for the next financial year.
Lack of vision
National calls this Fudge-it Budget “steady as she goes”.
“Steady as she goes” alright. Just don’t ask where she’s going.
If you asked John Key what kind of New Zealand he wants to see in ten years’ time what would the answer be?
Just what we’ve got now but with more inequality, more golf courses and a new flag?
Six budgets and still no vision. The one-trick pony is finally doing its one trick. But after the dance of the six Budget veils, all we find is a seventh veil with a tax cut tease post-election.
Failure: by the numbers
The numbers actually speak sadly for themselves.
Numbers like $56 billion. That’s how much new debt has piled up under National.
Numbers like $1.2 billion a year. That’s the ongoing cost of National’s tax cuts for the top ten percent.
Numbers like $10 million a day. That’s what we’re paying in interest on National’s debt. Ten. Million. Dollars. Every. Single. Day.
Think about how many kids could be lifted out of poverty for that.
Under this government there are now two New Zealands – one for a few self-described ‘rock stars’, increasingly drunk on plenty and privilege, increasingly out of touch with the rest.
And the other for the rest of us: struggling to pay the bills and get ahead; running harder to keep up; and unable to catch the fading the Kiwi dream.
And I say to New Zealanders – is this your recovery? Have you got your fair share?
Is this Budget about you or about them? They say they have balanced their books – have you been able to balance yours?
For too many New Zealanders the answer to that question is clearly no.
Real wage growth is actually forecast to go down, to go backwards, in the Budget they’ve just handed down.
Which is why the other set of numbers – the ones the government won’t be boasting about today – are so heart-breaking.
Numbers like 285,000 – that’s how many Kiwi kids are living in poverty.
Facing small cruelties like having no raincoat, or not being able to see a doctor, or being cold in their beds.
And the numbers like 50,000 – that’s how many more New Zealanders don’t have jobs since this government opened its doors to business.
People have seen their employers downsize, close their doors, or just get left to the cold winds of the market.
And numbers like Forty Six Percent. That’s how many Kiwi workers do not get a pay rise last year, despite the so-called ‘rock star’ recovery.
Like the care worker I met last year who told me she hadn’t had a pay rise since Helen Clark was the Prime Minister.
Numbers like $3.60. That is the price of a 2L bottle of milk that a young mum in my electorate couldn’t afford to buy for a child who had weak bones.
And you know what? It’s these numbers that make the real difference. I wouldn’t begrudge National all that debt – that $56 billion dollars, that $10 million dollars of interest a day. I wouldn’t begrudge it at all if it had taken those kids out of poverty, if it had got those Kiwis back into work, if it had given all of those New Zealanders struggling to pay their bills a shot at a better job, at better pay.
Because that’s not what this Government is about.
Since becoming government National has reinforced the privilege of the well-off.
Its major tax changes cut taxes for the rich and raised GST on everyone else.
They flogged off most of the family silver to the two percent of New Zealanders who could afford to buy it and the foreign speculators who clipped the ticket.
This is not a Budget for New Zealanders. It is favours owed to big corporates, big noters and the big end of town.
Another $40 million in irrigation subsidies for dairy farmers that are already drowning in cash.
Continuing tax breaks for property speculators, with no capital gains tax and no limit in foreigners trading Kiwis out of their homes.
No help for first home buyers, or anything to build new homes; only assistance for big building products companies via cuts to duties.
Now, just months before the 2014 election, National would have New Zealanders believe they’ve changed their tune.
Well, the New Zealand Herald’s John Armstrong wasn’t fooled. He said it’s “as if Bill English has been rifling through Labour's chocolate box of policies, taking the most tasty bits of confectionery and claiming them as his own.”
Except it’s like they’ve licked them and bitten them in half on the way through.
Armstrong called it the “Great Brain Robbery”. Well, it’s David Parker’s brain they’ve been robbing.
New Zealanders know that after half a decade governing for the few, a few cosmetic changes are a cynical election year stunt, not a new direction.
Under National, Paid Parental Leave has increased to only 16 or 18 weeks, not 26 weeks as it would be under Labour.
The parental tax credit extension is less than Labour’s Best Start payment.
Bowel cancer screening is 5 years too late, and comes only after Labour has already announced it.
Kauri dieback disease gets funded, but again only after Labour has already committed to it.
The truth is that these small concessions are a pale imitation of the new direction that a Labour-led Government would bring. If New Zealanders want the real package, then they will need to vote Labour to get it.
None of these changes will fix the massive inequalities that have built up under this Government.
People matter most
On this side of the House, we have a very different vision for New Zealand. We believe that people matter most.
We believe that the measure of economic success is whether New Zealanders’ lives are better. Whether it’s easier for them to get a job, pay the bills, and raise their kids.
I believe we can do better as a country. I believe New Zealanders deserve better than the low expectations and easy cynicism of this government.
That’s not what we want for New Zealand. We want New Zealand to be the fairest, most decent society in the world.
Labour stands for full employment - that every New Zealander who wants to get a job can get one. That’s why I announced a goal of reducing unemployment to 4% by the end of our first term.
And we’ve done it before.
Labour has a plan to do it. Last time we were in Government we achieved average unemployment of 3.9% for our last 5 years, and we’ll do it again.
Our monetary policy upgrade will help our exporters create jobs.
Our forestry and manufacturing upgrades will reward innovation and investment in these job-rich export industries.
KiwiBuild – our plan to build 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years – will turbocharge the construction sector.
Our Kiwisaver policy will help build a bigger savings pool here so we’re not at the mercy of foreign investment flows.
And a capital gains tax that will swing money away from speculation and towards production and innovation.
You’ll see decent employment laws that give people a fair go and a fair share.
You’ll see a meaningful rise in the minimum wage in our first hundred days.
Housing is the largest cost for most New Zealanders – and it’s never been less affordable.
When so many people have no chance of the security of owning their own home, when renting has become so expensive and so insecure, something is deeply, deeply wrong.
It is time to take the speculation out of the housing market, and get fairness back in. It is time to build 100,00 new homes, principally for first home buyers.
It is time to tackle the high cost of renting.
We’ll be lifting the quality of housing, with a healthy homes guarantee.
We’ll take measures to cut foreign speculation on Kiwi homes and make speculators actually pay tax like wage and salary earners do.
You’ll see decent paid parental leave.
You’ll see a better tax policy that ensures everyone pays their way, and that those who can afford it pay a larger share.
It means the best possible start for kids.
It means more money for health, more money for education, more money to care for the most vulnerable.
This programme to drive economic growth and improve the lives of all New Zealanders will be built on solid fiscal foundations.
The next Labour government will run surpluses every year unless there is another international downturn or a domestic disaster.
Our policies will be fully costed and we will bring down National’s record debt.
We have nothing to prove here - the last Labour government ran nine surpluses in nine years. National has posted just one surplus in six Budgets. Just one. That’s the price of their spending on the privileged few. And it’s a price that every other Kiwi is paying.
The next Labour government – the government I lead – will be a government that puts people first.
This is a Fudge-it Budget. A Budget of low expectations, easy cynicism, and cosmetic change.
Gone are Mr Key’s days of apparently being “ambitious for New Zealand”. Because the ‘rock star’ recovery is for someone else, not for you.
Gone are the days of a brighter future. Now John Key spends his time talking New Zealand down.
He says reducing unemployment to 4% is a dream. He says there’s nothing to be done.
Ambition, belief in New Zealanders, has given way to easy cynicism and snide remarks.
It’s politics as usual.
Labour will build a nation in which everyone has a good secure job, in which owning a home is not a fading dream, in which we can raise our children in our own country, and reasonably hope that our grandchildren can too and we can grow old with them.
Labour trusts Kiwis to build this nation together, and we know that with a government that backs them we can do this together.
Today, John Key and his government have shown once again that they don’t have what it takes to make New Zealand the place that all New Zealander’s deserve.
Mr Speaker, it is time for them to go.`