22 Mar 2011

Government signals cuts to many programmes

8:28 pm on 22 March 2011

The Government has signalled it will make cuts to a range of programmes to find $800 million in savings it says are needed to help meet the costs of the Christchurch quake.

Prime Minister John Key has all but announced a zero increase in spending, saying the devastating earthquake on 22 February has changed everything.

Mr Key has asked ministers to find $800 million worth of savings so the money can be transferred to health and education.

Finance Minister Bill English acknowledges that the impact of the quake is not solely responsible for the public finances taking a turn for the worse. He says the quake is an additional reason, and the fact that it has occurred means the Government no longer has choices it thought it had.

Mr English indicated that small cuts would be made to many areas of spending, but said there would not be radical changes to KiwiSaver, Working for Families or student loans.

Mr English says people will have to wait for the Budget in May to find out exactly where the Government is cutting spending.

Deals with support parties not exempt - PM

Prime Minister John Key says deals made with National's support partners will also be re-examined as the Government seeks to make savings, including the Maori Party's social services initiative Whanau Ora.

However, Whanau Ora Minister and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says as far as she is aware, there are no changes planned for the funding of the scheme which has been allocated $134 million over four years.

Mrs Turia says she would expect the National to stick to the plan that both parties have committed to, and has seen no evidence that that will change.

Taskforce could be scrapped

The Prime Minister also indicated that the Government may scrap the Don Brash-led 2025 Taskforce, saying it probably is not worth spending any more money on.

The taskforce was set up as part of the ACT Party's post-election deal with National to to look at ways to close the income gap with Australia.

ACT leader Rodney Hide says all parties need identify spending that is not a priority and he is willing to look at dropping the taskforce.

"The 2025 Taskforce gave us a very clear signal of what this country needs to do. The National Party said they're not going to do it. What we need to do isn't going to change, and so I'm happy to put that on the table for discussion."

The taskforce has delivered two reports and has a budget of $477,000 over three years.

Dr Brash says he supports any move to save money, but the remaining funding for the taskforce - about $160,000 - is unlikely to make a huge amount of difference.

Quake a convenient excuse - Labour

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says the Government is using the Christchurch earthquake as a convenient excuse for pushing through its agenda of spending cuts.

Mr Goff says such cuts will hurt low and middle income earners. The Government should borrow for the infrastructure rebuild and re-prioritise its capital spending in favour of Christchurch, he says.

The Green Party is arguing for a temporary earthquake levy, while the ACT party says $800 million of spending cuts is not enough.

Labour's finance spokesperson David Cunliffe told Morning Report what's required is a balanced approach and Labour will have a fully costed and funded package.

He says it will aim to increase growth and get people back to work, but also cover the cost of earthquake recovery, which is a priority.