The Labour coalition’s Wellbeing Budget announced last week has been hailed in many parts of the world as being a path breaking one, some commentators even calling it the budget of the future.
There is no doubt that the Wellbeing Budget has the wellbeing of less fortunate New Zealanders at heart. In its very look and feel, it tries hard to set right the long neglect of many facets of the social sector that have been chronically underfunded.
For instance, the approaches to tackling the deeply concerning situation of mental health infrastructure and services in this country have been half-hearted and desultory so far.
This Wellbeing Budget has boldly earmarked a whopping $1 billion toward that sector. It is not as though that this issue has cropped up suddenly. It was always known but unfortunately tackled with little funding and much lip service by previous governments.
Such human problems never crop up suddenly – they build up over time and must be dealt with urgency. Sadly, they have been neglected to such an extent that our infrastructure and personnel have both fallen short over the years.
But it is better late than never and the $1 billion infusion will definitely go some way in assuaging the situation in a sector where workers operate in the most challenging of situation. A lack of funding and appropriate infrastructure is the last thing they need. This Budget addresses that, though by no means will even that amount be sufficient, according to people in the know, given the long years of underfunding.
The Budget also addresses child poverty, with New Zealand being among the worst countries statistically among the OECD nations. This is a national shame. For the first time, the government has produced a report on child poverty and allocated funding and a strategy to tackle the situation head on.
But in its zeal to counter the long neglect of the social sector by previous governments, this government needs to guard against going overboard on over-correcting the imbalance by showing any signs of neglect of the economic sector, which indeed is the lifeblood of any successful nation.
Spending on wellbeing is great. But then you can’t spend and expect to build your surplus if you don’t have the right avenues and strategies to earn at the same time.
The Wellbeing Budget does little by way of stimulating business sentiment in this predominantly small and medium enterprise driven nation. What it perceives as socially responsible measures that it has adopted since coming to power haven’t exactly been music to entrepreneurs’ ears.
The economy hasn’t faltered so far but anecdotally the business sentiment is far from gung ho and is all but resigned to a slow growth or even a no growth outlook – at least for the remaining term of this government.
Moreover this government’s much touted pet schemes like Kiwibuild and free tertiary education are threatening to come unstuck and inspire little confidence in the business community about the leaders’ commercial nous.
Running coalitions in never an easy task even for the most astute of politicians. And nothing shows it better than the Wellbeing Budget itself.
Feted as it has been for the new age ring it has, with its much-needed emphasis on the social sector and the wellbeing of the deprived sections of New Zealanders, it has raised many an eyebrow on its spending on defence, which has anything but the same new age ring to it.
Quite clearly, the enhanced defence allocation and the one for the tree planting initiative are to mollycoddle Labour’s coalition partner New Zealand First for their ongoing support.
That belies a strong streak of realpolitik on the part of Labour and actually undermines the great deal of goodwill that it would have earned from its otherwise trend setting Wellbeing Budget.