Green Party Co-leader James Shaw's 2017 Budget Response Speech

E te Māngai o te Whare, tēnā koe.

Ki a koutou, huri noa i te Whare, ngā mihi o te wā ki a koutou katoa.

 

Mr Speaker,

The big headline in today’s Budget is a $2 billion Family Incomes Package.

After nine years of increasing hardship for low-income families, now, in an election year, National makes yet another headline-grabbing announcement to make it look like they’re doing something about it.

And it sounds great.

But a quick glance at today’s announcement suggests the following:

On the one hand, they say they’re increasing Family Tax Credits — for some people.

But on the other hand, the abatement rates will be higher and will cut in earlier.

They give with one hand and take away with the other.

The changes to income taxes go well beyond simply resetting thresholds to keep up with inflation.

And, as is always the way with these guys, the largest share of the tax cuts go to those on the highest incomes.

People on more than $127,000 a year get a tax cut $33.22 a week, whilst those on $24,000 a year or less, get only $5.34 a week.

Mr Speaker, this so-called $2 billion Family Incomes package is just another tax cut for the wealthy in disguise.

It reminds me a little of Budget 2015 when they announced benefit increases of $25 a week.

That sounded great too, until we realised later that half of all beneficiary families with children did not get the full $25.

Some got nothing at all.

And that’s the thing about this Government. They are the masters of the shell game.

Steven Joyce’s first — and final — Budget, along with an unprecedented wave of pre-Budget announcements, shows one thing. National may be out of touch, but they are very in tune with their polling data.

So they’ve set about looking very busy indeed.

But looking busy is not the same as achieving actual results.

Climate Change. National says they’re “super ambitious” on climate, but in the last nine years since they came to office, New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen 19%.

Rivers. National says they’re cleaning them up, but after nine years of a National Government, you can’t swim in 62% of our rivers without the risk of catching some horrible disease.

Conservation. National says they’re doing all they can to save our endangered species, but they don’t have a problem with coal mining in kiwi habitat on conservation land.

Transport. National says new motorways will “drive productivity”, but Aucklanders now spend the same amount of time stuck in traffic every year that they spend on holiday.

Energy. National says they want 90% renewable electricity, but New Zealand gets a lower percentage of its electricity from renewable sources today than it did in 1980.

Productivity: National say they’re spending more on R&D grants in this Budget, but after nine years of a National Government, we’re still spending half the OECD average on R&D after nine years.

The Māori economy. National say they are improving wellbeing and job opportunities for Māori, but after nine years of a National Government, Māori unemployment stubbornly remains over 10 percent — more than double the national average.

Housing. After nine years of a National Government New Zealand is the most unaffordable country in the world to buy a house and we’ve got 40,000 homeless people.

Today’s increase to the accommodation supplement is an admission of failure — a failure to build more houses, a failure to keep housing affordable.

The accommodation supplement takes taxpayer money and gives it to private landlords. If the Government had built more of its own social housing stock, that money would come back to the Government to be reinvested.

Steven Joyce says he wants New Zealanders to judge National on their record — and it is a broken record.

Housing: broken; our rivers: broken; the climate: broken; transport: broken.

We can change this. New Zealanders can change this. We just need to change the Government.

This Government reminds me of one of those tired old bands that continually tour the world, playing their greatest hits, talking about the good old days with their old lead singer.

The problem is, the songs just weren’t that great the first time round.

It’s time to give it up guys and let the new super group in town to take over.

Kiwis are generally a pretty happy and tolerant lot, but nine years is a long time to put your trust in a Government that’s big on announcements and short on results.

Can we trust National on rivers?

Can we really trust National to make our rivers swimmable again when, after nine years, our rivers and lakes are even more degraded and polluted than when they came to office?

Budget 2017 sinks a further $90 million into subsidies for big irrigation which will only make things worse.

The braided rivers of Canterbury are on the verge of vanishing forever. Close Ford is an ankle-deep puddle. More than 60 percent of our monitored rivers are now unsafe to swim in.

The Land & Water Forum has broken down under National — they no longer trust that the Government is acting in good faith, saying on the one hand that they want to clean up our rivers, while on the other, they’re subsidising the very things that make that impossible.

Instead of trying to fix the problem, National is doing what it always does, trying to wring a few more dollars out of a broken system before the public catches on.

Our rivers are too precious to be spoiled in National’s short-sighted pursuit of a quick buck.

Can we trust National on the climate?

And what about our children’s future? Can we still trust National to protect our climate and move our economy to a low carbon future?

Sure, National signed up to the Paris Agreement, committing us to a low carbon economy. But at the same time, under their stewardship, New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have been getting steadily worse.

They’re now 19 percent higher than they were when National came to power and continue to rise and rise and rise.

Budget 2017 makes things worse — they’re still stuck in their 1950s thinking by spending $9 dollars on motorways for every $1 dollar on rail. More pollution, more congestion.

The National Government’s failure to take any meaningful action on climate change means we’re going to have to pay other countries to reduce their pollution so that we don’t have to. And it’s going to cost us a fortune!

The Green Party revealed Cabinet briefing papers this week that estimate the cost of National’s inaction on climate change to be at least $14 billion dollars over 10 years.

That’s nearly $1.5 billion dollars every year just to buy carbon credits overseas.

And that’s at today’s prices. When carbon prices increase, we’ll be stuck with a bill that makes our looming Superannuation deficit look tiny by comparison.

We still have a small window of opportunity left to act. New Zealand’s got the resources and the clean energy expertise to meet the climate challenge and show the rest of the world how it’s done.

This is, in fact, one of the great economic opportunities of our lifetime — one that National is just letting slide on by, while they have their heads buried under the sea…looking for more oil.

If you want to live in a country that isn’t crippled by climate debt, one that is truly sustainable, with innovative, meaningful, well-paying jobs, you need to vote to change the government, before that window of opportunity closes.

Can we trust National on DOC funding?

This year, we estimate that the Department of Conservation (DOC) will have $26 million* less to invest in protecting nature than it did in 2008. That amounts to a cumulative budget cut of $422 million since National started cutting.

These long term budget cuts have resulted in fewer front line rangers on the ground protecting our most precious and vulnerable birds from further decline and extinction. It also means fewer scientists discovering new ways of doing conservation smarter.

After nine years, can we really trust National to protect the wild spaces that we love when they’re happy to starve nature’s front line defenders while handing out fat subsidies to oil companies to drill in the Maui’s dolphin sanctuary?

Only a vote for the Green Party in 121 days’ time will restore core funding for nature, and create a whole lot of good jobs out in the regions where they’re needed most of all.

The Social Investment Budget

National talk a big game on Social Investment. 

National’s Big Idea is to use Big Data to ‘target’ social spending more accurately, especially when it comes to our most vulnerable children, in order to reduce future Governments’ fiscal liability.

Mr Speaker, children are not a liability; they are our greatest asset.

You don't ‘target’ children; you care for them.

Everyone knows the old saying that it’s better to build a fence at the top of the cliff rather than park an ambulance at the bottom.

The Greens have argued for decades that investing a bit more up-front, in things like early-childhood education, will enable our children to grow up to be thriving adults with strong families and good jobs.

Social investment has the potential to be that Holy Grail of social policy — an evidence-based approach to building a 21st Century welfare system that actually does what it is intended to do — to lift families out of long-term, inter-generational cycles of poverty and exclusion and into ever-increasing cycles of opportunity and inclusion.

But how can we trust a National Government to deliver on that promise when, at its heart, they’re simply using the language of social investment to cloak nine years of cutting social spending in order to deliver their small-state dream?

National aren’t building a fence at the top of the cliff. They’re leaving a tangle of barbed wire on the ground and hoping no one trips over the edge.

If Steven Joyce truly believed that people mattered, National would have curbed their natural instincts to blame and bully beneficiaries.

If Steven Joyce truly cared about the plight of our most vulnerable families, National would have reacted very differently to the stories of indifference and bureaucratic blockheadedness regularly encountered in government agencies like ACC, CYFs, Income Support, and in our prisons.

When times are theoretically so good for the New Zealand economy, why are people who have jobs, working more than 40 hours-a-week, living in cars?

Why are New Zealand’s houses still so cold and damp that there are 40,000 visits by kids to the emergency rooms every winter because their homes made them sick?

Why do 1,600 people die in the winter months compared to the rest of the year?

Mr Speaker, New Zealand homes kill five times more people every year than the road toll and this Government killed off the home insulation scheme that was working to save those lives.

Social Investment. Give me a break. The home insulation scheme had a benefit-to-cost ratio of $6 to $1.

This Government understands the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

Conclusion

Mr Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister posted a survey on his Facebook feed asking his followers what sort of pie he should eat today.

The answer is humble pie.

Budget 2017 disappoints in its lack of a big vision for our great nation and a lack of self-belief that we can solve the challenges of our time if we change the direction we’re heading in.

We can have rivers that we can swim in.

We can lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.

We can fix the housing crisis.

We can show the world what it takes to have a truly sustainable economy that works for and includes everyone.

Budget 2017 will not be the defining political moment of the year. That moment belongs to the people of New Zealand in Election 2017.

After nine years of National, it is time to change the Government.

And change is coming.

 

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

 

* Correction from figure delivered