30 May 2019

Budget 2019 RNZ Radio Special: Our correspondents' analysis

5:17 pm on 30 May 2019

RNZ's correspondents have been analysing the government's Wellbeing Budget which has delivered $1.9 billion for mental health, $80m to Whānau Ora and $1 billion to KiwiRail to redevelop the rail system.

Finance Mrnister Grant Robertson and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrive with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in tow for the release of Budget 2019.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern arrive with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in tow for the release of Budget 2019. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

RNZ's Morning Report presenter Susie Ferguson hosted some of our expert journalists for a live radio panel following the release at Parliament today.

Many of them were locked into a room before the release to give them time to dissect the large document, in what is known as the "lock-up".

Read more on the Budget:

Here is what RNZ's Correspondents said:

Political Editor Jane Patterson

RNZ's Political Editor said despite the Well Being title, this Budget does look similar to a standard Budget.

"In terms of this Budget it was presented differently, we had the annual report style but really when you got into the numbers it very much looks like to me a stock-standard standard Budget.

"There were priority groupings as we have found, but in the end it was more money over a very similar time scale and I suppose a Labour-leaning Budget - money into the welfare system, money into mental health and to support that child poverty goal of course, a main one of the prime minister's."

She said many of the proposed programmes would be implemented across several agencies.

"In many cases, for example the Corrections package and also the one about domestic and sexual violence, really span a number of agencies. Now that is interesting in terms of the way in which the appropriations of course are given, but that means that there is an expectation that the chief executives within those agencies will work towards those very specific priorities.

"Other interesting things in here is that child poverty statistics are laid out in the Budget and the expectation and measurements that will be expected for government agencies."

Business Editor Gyles Beckford

RNZ's Business Editor said the fiscal outlook was slightly weaker than had been forecast in December.

"This is essentially where the government is getting the extra money for the spending it wants to do, it's decided to trim the surpluses that it wants to post, and so it's basically knocking $9 billion from the accumulated surpluses over the next four years, on top of that there'll be some extra borrowing, essentially that gives you $15bn which covers more or less the scope of the new spending that they've got.

"The economic fundamentals that underpin the Budget growth, unemployment and the like, they're probably I think a touch optimistic but they're close to consensus that the rest of the analysts around the community are picking," he said.

"The big risk here of course is the global outlook, one's not to know precisely how the US-China trade dispute will play out and the effect that that will have on global growth."

He said the wellbeing approach involves various departments trying to get various programmes together in a coordinated way to achieve targets.

"So clearly, reducing child poverty is one of the key wellbeing outputs that the government wants, as is improving Māori outcomes and mental health. We see some evidence of this in the way that programmes have been designed, the spending allocated.

"But it's not radical. It feels very much, I have to say, like an old Budget with some new wrapping - but I think the real judgements will be not this year, but next year or the year after when we'll be able to say 'this is what wellbeing actually achieved'."

The investment of $1bn in KiwiRail has given the state-owned company a degree of certainty which they had been pleading for for years, he said.

"$1bn is going to buy them a new fleet of locomotives from the South Island and they'll be much more efficient, new rolling stock, they'll be able to expand their network, upgrade their network. The more rail that is used the fewer trucks on the road, the lower the emissions," Beckford said.

Māori News Correspondent Leigh-Marama McLachlan

RNZ's Māori News Correspondent said a strong investment in child poverty was in line with the best interests of Māori communities.

"For te ao Māori, you know our tamariki are our taonga, they're a treasure for us, so I think a lot of people will be really stoked to see money going especially on family violence, money going on reducing the impacts of sexual violence, kaupapa Māori services will be key for Māori.

"They want to be at the helm when it comes to what these services look like, they believe they know what's best for their people and they're really keen to have the power to address the situation themselves.

"When we move forward into child poverty, the statistics there for Māori are shocking. I think people are particularly keen to see the language here around breaking the cycle, that is absolutely needed for our communities."

She said one of the biggest issues is the situation for Māori in state care.

"We've got 70 percent in state care, 80 percent of them are abused which is why it's really good to see that they're also looking at improving how they're treated in state care."

She said what Māori really wanted to see was targeting funding.

"And they have got that obviously, $80 million for Whānau Ora, more wrap-around support services for families is really important and it's also the government actually being seen to give Whānau Ora a vote of confidence."

Māori are over-represented in prisons, she said.

"Our men keep going back, more than half of them who leave are back in prison within a year. They have to try something new. I think it's interesting that they are going to invest in whānau, it's taking that Whānau Ora approach further and from what I've heard from people who have been in prison and who've got out, it's really important to invest in their families too, otherwise they're just going back to the same situation and they're going back to the same old habits."

Health Correspondent Karen Brown

RNZ's Health Correspondent said the government has been under huge pressure to deliver on mental health.

"At the heart of all its initiatives on mental health - and there are many in this Budget - is a new universal frontline mental health service, it's going to be set up essentially to help those with mild to moderate need.

"It's expected to reach 325,000 people with mental health and addiction needs to 2023-24, it'll be rolled out over five years."

The reason for that timeframe is that there is not yet the workforce to deliver it and they need to be trained up, she said.

"It is ambitious, it's very wide ranging. The government is trying to turn around a very very long period of neglect in mental health and is admitting up front that it's going to take time and this is just a first step.

"Some of the details are not here yet, that number of extra workers we'll need, how we'll train them, how much that will cost - that is all to come some time later this year. So they're trying to do a lot in a very short time."

She said there would be money to build new facilities and improve existing ones, as well as free counselling for those bereaved by suicide in their family and a community discussion about suicide, which includes the media, which is new.

Education Correspondent John Gerritsen

RNZ's Education Correspondent said the government announced 600 learning support coordinator positions to help with special needs children, but this had already been announced ahead of the Budget, and was not enough to mollify the teachers.

The Budget included more than $75 million a year to pay $150 per child to every school in deciles 1-7 that agrees not to ask families for donations and Gerritsen said that would be welcomed.

"I know a lot of principals who are really looking out for that. There's many schools that don't bother asking for donations or maybe get 20 to 30 percent of their families paying - it's not really worth it. So this announcement will be a bit of a shot in the arm for those schools - if you've got 200 kids that's $30,000. There may be some flack for limiting it to schools in deciles 1 to 7 - there's an assumption there that higher decile schools wouldn't want to opt in."

There will be $197 million over four years to help polytechnics, but although the government is planning some major reforms the Budget did not deliver any detail, he said.

"Polytechnics are publishing their annual reports right now and you can expect to see a lot of deficits there, they really do need some help from the government and they were hoping for something concrete in this Budget."

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