28 May 2024

It's not Budget week, it's budget months

From The House , 7:30 pm on 28 May 2024


It is budget week this week. I am sure you know that already. There are probably hermit monks, hidden in remote mountains, who are not only aware of budget week, but already tired of hearing about it.

But few people realise that Thursday’s announcement is not the end of the matter. It is barely the beginning. They also don’t realise that the Budget Statement is not the Government announcing determinations, but the Government making a plea, seeking permission. 

Budget documents on Parliament's Table

Budget documents on Parliament's Table Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

Immediately after the Budget Statement is read by the Minister of Finance (and barely past the entrée of the budget), is the Budget Debate, which involves 8 hours of speeches from MPs (including longer speeches from the party leaders). That debate can only adjourn once, so it should conclude by the end of the next sitting week (Thursday 27th June).

The main course of the budget process is the examination of the Appropriation Estimates (how much each government agency plans to spend, and on what). That work is undertaken by all twelve subject specialist select committees. It involves detailed written questionnaires, in-depth documentation, and follow-up verbal cross-examinations by committee MPs of the various ministers and agency/ministry bosses. 

The third course is when the House gets to debate the results of all of those investigations, which it will do in a few months time. It is not until then that it will vote finally on the Government’s financial plans. 

Until that is all complete and signed off, the budget is still (at least on paper), no more than a plan. 

Chris Bishop, the Leader of the House, explains the process in constitutional terms.

“They get in the departments, and the relevant ministers, and they have to account to Parliament for the money they are seeking from Parliament. Fundamentally, it's a matter of constitutional process. The Government can only govern with the permission of Parliament, and the Government can only spend money with the permission of Parliament. So the the actual budget is essentially the Government seeking from the Parliament, the ability to spend money on things that it wants to spend money on.”

In short, the budget is far from finished. It’s not budget week, it’s budget months. So tuck in your napkin and prepare to discover whether the chef is bringing out a degustation, or diet.