Robertson talks down budget surprises except for Māori approach

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

No real surprises are expected in Budget 2021 as Finance Minister Grant Robertson stated the obvious today: "Budget 2021 will be a 'Covid' budget."

But he did add a surprising new objective to his budget - incorporating a te ao Māori perspective into the budget process to help improve economic and social outcomes within the Māori and Pacific communities.

The objective is one of five mentioned ahead of the Budget to secure the recovery and investing in the wellbeing of New Zealanders. 

"As detailed in Te Ohanga Māori, the report recently released by the Reserve Bank and (economic consultancy) BERL, the Māori economy has seen some remarkable developments in the last few years. In 2018 the Māori asset base totalled $68.7 billion, up from $42.6 billion in 2013. The Māori population grew by 180,000 in the same period, " Robertson says.

"The inclusion of Māori and Pacific outcomes as one of the wellbeing outcomes, and the creation of entities such as the Maori Health Authority are a clear sign the government is committed to ensuring we have a partnership with Māori and Pacific peoples that maximises the opportunity to lead and benefit from the economic recovery."

Wellbeing embedded

The wellbeing aspect of the budget also has no surprises. Robertson outlined the objectives to his audience at a pre-budget speech in Auckland this morning.

" I heard someone say the other day that the government talks less about wellbeing than it once did. I disagree. What I actually think is happening is that the wellbeing approach is going from something that is quite novel, to something that is firmly embedded within the day-to-day decision-making of the government."

"One of the changes that we have already made to the Public Finance Act is that the Minister of Finance must set out the wellbeing objectives that will guide the Government’s budget decisions. For Budget 2021, those objectives are:

  •  securing a just transition as we shift to a low-emissions economy;
  • lifting productivity and enabling all New Zealanders to benefit from the future of work;
  •  lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills and opportunities;
  •  reducing child poverty and improving child wellbeing; and
  • supporting physical and mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders and keeping Covid-19 out of our communities."

He ara waiora

The minister also spoke to the treasury's incorporation of the He Ara Waiora framework. The Treasury breaks down the framework saying on its website, "The foundations for wellbeing come through kaitiakitanga (stewardship of all our resources), manaakitanga (care for others), ōhanga (prosperity) and whanaungatanga (the connections between us)."

These foundations support the development of the four capital stocks: financial and physical capital; human capital; social capital; and natural capital. Wellbeing depends on the sustainable growth and distribution of these four capitals, which together represent the comprehensive wealth of New Zealand."

Robertson said "This is an important development. Although the Living Standards Framework draws heavily from leading international efforts such as the OECD’s Better Life Index, we think we can do more to ensure that our approach is distinct to our own place and our own culture.

For Budget 2021 alignment to the He Ara Waiora concepts and principles were considered, not just for the initiatives that are focused on Māori but at a much broader level. This is a new development, and one that we want to get right before we embed it further in decision-making in the budget process, but it is my intention that future Budgets will see our own Aotearoa New Zealand version of wellbeing take shape."

The budget will be delivered next Thursday.