The recently announced 2021 Budget was an opportunity missed. With vaccination programmes underway and many countries progressively opening their borders, it’s time to reset and better position our economy for growth.
This Budget should have delivered a pathway back to prosperity and to reduce the debt burden on future generations, but instead of supporting businesses to create jobs and lift wages, Labour placed a priority on significantly increasing the benefit.
I am concerned about the many New Zealanders feeling the weight of the rising cost of living, but there was nothing in the Budget for the many hard-working Kiwis on low wages, nor our superannuitants.
Raising the benefit is not a long-term plan to get the 200,000 people on Jobseeker unemployment benefits back into a job.
For many countries, their Governments have provided unprecedented support during the Covid crisis. However, New Zealand’s Crown debt has increased by $40 billion to $100 billion since March last year, and it is forecast to double to nearly $200 billion over the next few years. Every day we borrow about $110 million – the annual interest alone is just a little less than what it costs to run the New Zealand Police force.
If we are to bring the Government’s books back into line, we need a roadmap to grow our economy much faster and more sustainably. This will ensure New Zealanders have secure jobs and incomes and our families and communities are stronger.
This means supporting our businesses to help them develop, expand and employ more people. We need businesses operating profitably and pursuing ambitious growth plans. We need the Government to work better with businesses and to support them. It is time to stop imposing additional costs and increasing the barriers for businesses to employ new people.
We would also make good on our promise to encourage businesses with tax changes to invest in new plant and equipment so that New Zealanders are working smarter, rather than longer. We need to encourage our businesses to diversify – doubling our tech industry is possible with the right support.
Better education opportunities, attracting highly trained professionals, wealthy tech entrepreneurs and new R&D operations are some ways to achieve this goal.
Covid has significantly affected business sectors that traditionally have contributed significantly to the economy. International tourism, the foreign student market, and hospitality and accommodation have been decimated. We should be supporting those industries still suffering the after-effects of Covid: more targeted funding for regional areas is required, but the allocation and prioritisation of these funding packages should be determined by local entities, not set by officials in Wellington.
Infrastructure is another lever for growth, but recent talk by the Government of scaling back major transport projects such as Mill Road is damaging and creates uncertainty for local and international contractors.
National would be publishing a 10-year infrastructure plan covering transport, hospitals and schools. And we would stick to this plan. We need to complete the rollout of digital services to all New Zealanders, especially those in our provincial areas. Our farmers and those living in small rural towns should have the same access to digital services as those working on Lambton Quay.
We are also keen to establish a National Infrastructure Bank, which would provide finance and advice to central and local government for infrastructure projects, and ensure efficient financing of the infrastructure networks that are essential for a competitive and productive economy.
If we set the right framework, all New Zealanders will be better off.
Andrew Bayly is the MP for Port Waikato, and National's Shadow Treasurer (Revenue).