16 Feb 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle: Government looking at targeted assistance for immediate, long-term relief

5:03 pm on 16 February 2023
Deputy leader of Labour Party Grant Robertson

Grant Robertson says the cyclone is also causing a rethink on the Budget due in May. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Further short-term relief measures to help those hit by floods and the cyclone will be announced soon, Minister of Finance Grant Robertson says.

Treasury was looking at the economic and financial impact of the disasters, which would take take some weeks, he said.

"We're certainly doing work right now on both the immediate response package that's needed just to get people through this emergency phase. And then we'll make the assessment on what kind of relief support will be needed," Robertson said.

"So you can expect to hear from the government over coming days, the interim short-term emergency type support that we provide. And then over the next few weeks, the longer term response that we can give."

Robertson said the Canterbury and Kaikōura earthquakes offered a template for how targeted assistance could be given in particular regions.

So far the government had contributed to mayoral relief funds, rural support and clean up costs, and an Auckland-based fund to assist businesses.

The latest measure was a loosening of credit rules to allow loans of up to $10,000 without extensive credit checks for those affected.

Consumer Affairs Minister Duncan Webb said banks and other finance providers such as building societies and credit unions had come on board.

"While the exemption does not cap interest rates or fees, I have asked the banking sector for assurances that interest rates will be at usual or possibly lower rates."

Defence Force brings evacuees from Waiohiki to Hastings sports centre

People in regions such as Hawke's Bay have had to be evacuated from their properties and some face an uncertain future. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Budget rewrite

Robertson said the disasters would cause "a big shift" in terms of the Budget being drawn up for release in May.

"Obviously, this is a significant impact both economically and fiscally and we are at the sharp end of the Budget process right now.

"But we've learned to be nimble over the last few years and ... we will now be taking this into account as we put the budget together."

The government may be forced to increase borrowing for the disaster recovery, but had the capacity to cope, Robertson said.

The latest government accounts for the half year ended December showed government income and expenses slightly below forecasts, but the budget deficit of $2.85 billion was in line with the updated forecast made in December.

The level of net debt was about $1 billion above forecast, equating to 21.6 percent of the value of the economy, but Robertson was comfortable with that and the prospect of it rising as a result of the disasters.

"Our levels of net debt are low compared to the rest of the world and that does give us what we call the fiscal headroom to move ... that headroom is exactly there for situations like this."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs