Budget 21 a 'cheugy', living in the past budget - Brigitte Morten

5:43 pm on 20 May 2021

By Brigitte Morten.

Opinion - Budget 2021 is cheugy. If you don't know what this means, it is likely you too are cheugy. For the uninformed, this is the latest insult from Generation Z. It is targeted mostly at Millennials and their out-of-date thinking, lack of originality and their love of skinny jeans.

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The 2021 Budget. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Just like Millennials, this budget is living in the past. There are large chunks of money for existing initiatives and programmes and any new spending is directed at creating large new bureaucracies.

But while increased spending in health, education and infrastructure will be applauded without any new thinking to support it, it will be wasted for future generations.

The Minister of Finance has not shied away from this cheugy status. He directly referenced Ruth Richardson's 1991 benefit cuts in his budget speech. But just in the same way he criticised Richardson's measures for bluntly cutting welfare with little thought to how this would change the recipient's life, he too applied the same blunt tool here. Tackling poverty by increasing benefits will help those struggling under compounding rental costs but will do nothing to target intergenerational welfare dependency.

Labour will try to argue this Budget is laying the groundwork for changing how the government intervenes in the future. In fact they named this Budget 'Securing the Future'. They will point to the Māori Health Authority or the renamed Low Emission Transport Fund. But providing buckets of money is the easy part. If New Zealand is going to lift productivity, tackle climate change and narrow the growing inequality gap, we must look for innovative solutions.

The old has already been proven not to work.

A forgiving pundit might give the government some slack on generating new ideas. After all, most of last year was spent responding to Covid-19. But this is the same government that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on working groups and reports at the beginning of their last term. Tying up some of the best and brightest we have in endless workshops should have provided something the government could work with.

Not only did the reports get written but the data exists to support a more targeted innovative approach to intergenerational change. The Minister of Finance knows this. In the Budget speech he told Parliament the data reinforces the importance of the government's wellbeing objectives - that there were New Zealanders with lower levels of wellbeing who needed more support.

What he didn't do was use this data for problem solving. Funding large amounts against these problem areas will provide positive outcomes against the Living Standards Framework (how Treasury measures wellbeing) but it won't do so in a sustainable way. More money will be needed next year. And the year after.

There was a hint that some deep thinking had occurred. A new employment insurance scheme for workers was announced. But alas, it has no funding and no detail attached to it.

By hanging on to how we have always done it, the Minister of Finance has missed an opportunity to create a legacy. Despite the headlines, this is not a Budget that will be remembered for tackling poverty, but one that makes it harder for future generations.

And this comes from a government which promised to be transformational and spent most of last year talking about the new normal.

Younger generations' insults may be limited now to calling our side parts uncool or laughing at our "Live, Laugh, Love" signs (if you didn't know these are also cheugy). But the reality that the government had the chance to create a directional change and threw it away will attract their scorn for generations to come.

In the same way we blame the boomers for environmental damage and the housing market, Generation Z will blame this government for using a once in a lifetime opportunity to do the same old thing.

* Brigitte Morten is a senior consultant for Silvereye. Before that she was a senior ministerial adviser to the Minister of Education in the National-led government, and an adviser and campaign director for Australia's Liberal Party.

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