22 Sep 2019

Budget 2019 - the process in a nutshell

From The House , 7:30 am on 22 September 2019

Money is important, especially when it comes to running a country so the process to approve the Government’s spending plan is a long one which has only just wrapped up.

The stages of the Budget Bill are tracked on Parliament's website

The stages of the Budget Bill are tracked on Parliament's website Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

In the beginning

In the beginning there was a Minister of Finance who created a financial plan.

Some MPs saw the plan was good but a lot of others were very angry and widely regarded it as a bad idea.

This is usually how a Government Budget is received. The Minister of Finance will announce it in May (May 30 this year to be exact) and then there’s a long debate about it in the House.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson hands the Budget document to National Party leader Simon Bridges in Parliament 30 May 2019.

It's tradition for the Minister of Finance to hand a copy of their Budget Statement to other party leaders in the House. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Most people call it Budget 2019 (or whatever year it is) but it’s real name is the Appropriation (2019/20 Estimates) Bill.

Each bill follows a standard process at Parliament but the Budget bill is always different.

It’s first reading happens without debate and is over very quickly.

The House of Representatives (all the MPs) then move straight into the second reading debate with the Minister of Finance going first for as long as they like (called the Budget Statement/Taukī Pūtea)

This year was the first time the Budget used the Wellbeing Framework developed by Treasury.

After the Finance Minister, the Leader of the Opposition gives a speech (boiled down to “budget bad”) and then the Prime Minister (who essentially says “budget good”).

Other Party leaders follow and then the debate is paused so the House can carry on with some other business.

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Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges during the Budget 2019 debate. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The debate doesn’t end here though; 15 hours in total is allowed for the debate and it’s spread out over a few days allowing many other MPs to share their thoughts.

The middle

The Education and Workforce Select Committee during an Estimates Hearing for Education.

The Education and Workforce Select Committee during an Estimates Hearing for Education. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Budget is split up into areas like education, health, and justice, and these are sent to Select Committees (groups of MPs from various parties who take a closer look at things). 

This part is called the Estimates Hearings and it takes place while the Budget Debate carries on in the House.

Ministers front up to various Select Committees and answer questions on money allocated to their portfolios.

Opposition MPs usually criticise the Budget proposal while MPs from Government parties (Labour, NZ First, Green Party) usually ask softer questions to allow the Minister to say something positive.

This process takes weeks but the next stage can’t start until all the reports from select committees are sent back to the House.

The second middle

The Annual Review Debate underway in the debating chamber. Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley is chairperson and the mace is under the table to show the House is in committee.

  When the House goes into committee the Speaker leaves the chair and the mace is placed under the table. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Once the reports come back the House starts another long debate of 11 hours called the Estimates Debate.

Normally this stage (Committee of the Whole House) is for pulling apart the details of a bill to make sure it will do what it promises to do.

For the Budget, this part is split into sections which relate to the select committee subjects. So about an hour will be spent on the Maori Affairs sector, an hour on the Environment Sector, or the Education and Workforce sector etc

The chair of the committee starts off each debate talking about the report and then other MPs chime in.

What MPs are actually doing is deciding whether or not to keep each part in the overall budget (they will, because not keeping it would indicate a lack of confidence in the Government and require new leadership).

There’s a vote at the end of each section and like the other long debates, this one takes place over a few weeks so MPs can work on other stuff in between.

The End

Governor-General of New Zealand, Dame Patsy Reddy, signing the first Royal assent at New Zealand Parliament. 17 October 2016

  Once a bill has passed its third reading it's sent off to the Governor General Dame Patsy for her signature a.k.a Royal Assent. Then it becomes law. Photo: Supplied / Office of the Clerk

The third and final reading of a bill is the last event it has in the House.

This stage is the shortest in the Budget bill’s journey but still longer than usual at three hours instead of two.

Much like the speeches back in May the main crux of this debate will be either “Budget good” or “Budget bad”.

It’s rare these days for a budget to fail as the Government commands a majority of support in the House but its tradition for the Opposition to make their opposition known.

Once the bill passes its third reading, it’s given Royal Assent by the Governor General and that’s it done and dusted.

Until they start the Annual Review process next year.