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Budget must fund 'building blocks': Labour

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 17/05/2017 Karen Sweeney

There's a housing shortage, roads are clogged and parents are being made to pay for what should be free education, according to Labour's finance guru Grant Robertson.

But the good news, according to the man hoping to have control of New Zealand's finances after the September election, is that the money is there to make up the nation's social and infrastructure deficits.

That's something National and Labour can agree on, he says.

Prime Minister Bill English has handed down the last eight National budgets, but next Thursday his finance portfolio successor Steven Joyce will present his first.

Already announcements have been made, including $2.2 billion for stage one of a 34,000 social and affordable housing development in Auckland, $321 million in a social investment package and $60 million over four years for Pharmac.

While Mr Robertson says the biggest announcement - likely to be around Working for Families - is yet to come, there's a theme of "catch-up" that's emerged.

"A lot of this is things that National could have dealt with before now and haven't, and in fact probably let get worse," he told NZ Newswire on Wednesday.

"It's pretty hard to give credit to a government for half solving a problem that they created in the first place and that feels like a lot of what we're seeing."

Labour wants to focus on improving the "building blocks of opportunity" and have in the months leading up to the election announced big ticket ideas like three years free post-secondary education and training, their ambitious 100,000 social and affordable housing KiwiBuild programme and restoring health sector funding.

They're ideas that don't come cheap but Mr Robertson believes there's enough money in the government's balance sheets to address major housing, health and education needs.

"That's something that both National and Labour agree on. It's a matter of priorities for addressing those, and the urgency of addressing them," he said.

Where he really wants to see investment is in Working for Families.

The Child Poverty Action Group has claimed the government must find $700 million a year to restore Working for Families to the same level it was funded seven years ago.

The organisation claims the government spent $3.1 billion "at 2017 dollar values" on Working for Families in 2009/10, while last year's spend was $2.4 billion.

Mr Joyce told Parliament those figures were "unlikely to be correct".

Mr Robertson said whatever funding the government finds for the scheme must be new and positive.

"We think there does need to be a significant investment in health and education get those back to providing the building blocks of opportunity which is what that's really about," he said.

"Ultimately Working for Families is a scheme that's done a lot of good for New Zealanders but in some ways it's a substitute for the fact that wages have not been growing properly and we'd certainly like to see that happen more."

The budget will be presented on May 25.

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