As someone who has previously been involved in the Budget process as an Associate Minister of Finance I know that Government Budgets are about juggling competing demands for funding in order to get the best results for New Zealanders. Just like most people can’t afford to renovate their house and buy a new car in the same year, there will never be enough money to give every Ministry and every organisation its full wishlist of funding.
Unfortunately the new Government seems to be only just coming to this realisation after overpromising before the election and creating high expectations that this Budget would be brimming with cash for every sector.
What I find frustrating is that instead of fronting up and admitting this, the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and other Ministers are suddenly painting a picture of woefully neglected public services everywhere. These claims are simply untrue.
For example, the previous Government increased the education budget every year we were in office and the overall education budget went from $8 billion to over $11 billion.
When we came into government, we inherited a property portfolio with an average age of 40 years. There was no complete picture of the state of school property. The Auditor-General last year stated that during the time National was in government, the management of the school property portfolio strengthened significantly.
We invested more than $5 billion in school property alone – the largest ever. This included the $1.1 billion Christchurch schools rebuild in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes. We were also dealing with rapid population growth in areas such as my electorate of Selwyn where we spent $87 million on new school infrastructure between 2008 and 2017.
We recognised and planned for the fact there was still more work to be done. That’s why we had set aside a further $4.85 billion over four years for education infrastructure, like school property.
The same is true for health spending which increased each year under the previous Government. We funded more elective operations, increased funding for new medicines, reduced waiting times for cancer treatment and funded 6,100 more doctors and nurses in our hospitals. We introduced free GP visits and prescriptions for children aged under 13. None of this points to a health system that was neglected and under-resourced.
If the new Government had done its homework before coming up with its “100 day plan” perhaps it wouldn’t have thrown so much money at fees free tertiary education and the $1 billion “regional development fund” (which seems to be missing in action down here in the South Island’s regions).
The fact is that population pressures, cost pressures and ageing assets are always part of the equation for successive governments to contend with and make provision for – they should not be turned into excuses for broken promises.
This Government should count itself lucky that it has inherited an economy in such strong shape. Imagine if it had a global financial crisis or a series of earthquakes to deal with?