But inside this was a blue budget not a red one. It’s a description neither Labour nor National would like bestowed on Budget 2018 but this was a triumph of neoliberalism or at least a continuation of it.
Oh, not if you listen to the words of ministers, urging us to see this as rebuilding the frayed social fabric after years of neglect. But don’t listen to the words. Look at the numbers.
For years Labour has gone on about Health being underfunded by $2 billion a year. And in this budget they actually increased Vote Health by less than National did in 2017! Their rhetoric was just that.
Not only has Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivered a surplus of more than $3 billion, rising to more than $7 billion by 2021, he is actually going to spend less than National has been spending as a percentage of GDP.
Government spending – or core crown expenses in the jargon – will be 28 percent of GDP. That is lower than the figure for almost all of National’s three terms in office.
As a fiscal conservative, I’m pleased with this. However quality of spending matters also. They are wasting billions of dollars on free tertiary fees. I’d much rather that money went into areas of real need.
The glaring omission in this Budget was spending for Māori Development. I’ve written in this column before that the government strategy seems to be mainstreaming rather than targeted assistance for Māori. But even given that strategy the allocations are breathtakingly small.
Buried at the back of the Budget press pack is a release outlining just $37 million for Māori Development over four years, initiatives for housing, land development and youth not in work or education.
When you consider the Crown spends nearly $90 billion, it’s striking that the might of the Labour Māori caucus – there are five ministers’ names on that press statement – can only deliver $9 million a year.
Now Labour holds all the Maori seats and has got rid of the Maori Party, they can go back to take Maori for granted.
This looked like National’s tenth Budget rather than Labour’s first.
Some National budgets were effectively Labour lite budgets. This is a National lite budget.