Finance Minister Grant Robertson was in Dannevirke to talk about the budget. Photo / Leanne Warr
New Zealand is in a good position to be able to look after people, according to Grant Robertson.
The Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister was in Dannevirke on Wednesday to talk to people in the community about the Wellbeing Budget 2022.
However, his visit was marred by protesters holding signs and disrupting his presentation by demanding answers to various questions.
Robertson said the budget had been challenging.
“This was the fifth budget I’ve done and in some ways the hardest one,” he said.
“The reason that this budget is so challenging to work with is the uncertainty and the volatility of the world we’re living in now.”
Things like the war in Ukraine had put significant pressure on various things including the price of oil and the supply chain, which led to increased pressure in building and other industries in New Zealand.
Robertson said within 24 hours of him giving his budget speech, inflation in the United Kingdom had risen from 6.9 per cent to more than 8 per cent.
“The Dow Jones lost about a thousand points that night as well.”
It was an uncertain and volatile time for the world.
He said the good news for New Zealand was that the country was probably in one of the best positions of any economy in the world to handle that.
“That is, because of, I believe, the way that the country had got through to where we are with Covid.”
Making sure that businesses and households were supported to get through meant that the country rebounded back in a way that other economies hadn’t been able to.
Robertson said in order to do that, the Government had to borrow a lot of money for things like the wage subsidy scheme which made a massive difference in how New Zealanders made it through.
He said in 2020 just over 70 per cent of jobs in the economy were supported by the wage subsidy scheme and in 2021 it was about 47 per cent.
“That worked to make sure people stayed in their jobs, that businesses had some cash flow and some confidence.”
One of the indicators of New Zealand’s strong position was unemployment was down to 3.2 per cent, which Robertson said was one of the lowest levels that had ever been seen.
“That is as a result of working together to make sure people stay in work.”
One of those initiatives was the free apprenticeships trade training and about 190,000 New Zealanders had benefited from apprenticeships and trade training.
He said the budget was about a balance between getting a strong fiscal position, how the Government could support people with the cost of living and how they invested and made a good highway to jobs in the future.
On a big picture level, the New Zealand economy was in relatively good shape, but that didn’t take away that individual households, individual businesses and communities were doing it tough, Robertson said.
“There are people doing it tough, but what it means is that as a country, we’re in a good position to be able to look after people and go forward.”
Robertson said one of the focuses in the budget was on supermarkets saying New Zealanders were paying too much for food.
“It’s pretty galling to go into an Australian supermarket and see a New Zealand block of cheese that’s cheaper than what you and I will pay. There’s a reason for that and the reason is that we don’t have the competition in the supermarket sector that other companies do.”
Robertson said another major area of spending was in the resetting of the health sector, wanting to make sure that New Zealand had a health system that actually delivered to New Zealanders.
“We’re making sure that we’re actually providing services at a local level that work for New Zealanders that are delivered in the most effective and efficient way possible.”
Over the next five years, the Government was going to invest $61 billion in infrastructure, Robertson said.
“We have not invested in New Zealand infrastructure in probably decades.”
He said the population had grown from 3 million to 4 million over 30 years and it grew to 5 million over 16 years, but more roads and houses hadn’t been built.
“That investment is critical in making sure we unlock the productivity of regions and cities all over New Zealand.”
Those at the presentation asked a number of questions including food prices, roading and health.
Police have confirmed no arrests were made.
Robertson was accompanied on his roadshow through the region by Kieran McAnulty.
Read More: Finance minister visits Dannevirke