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Labour isolated on family package bill

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/05/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

The prime minister says budgets don't win elections.

Bill English is right, they don't, but they can be a big help.

Finance Minister Steven Joyce's budget, presented on Thursday, is a carefully-crafted piece of work.

It shifts National even further into Labour territory and has forced the party into a position where it is voting against legislation that helps low and middle income families.

And for once, the Greens and NZ First aren't on the same page as Labour.

They decided there was some value in it and voted for the bill that implements the package when the government brought it in under urgency right after the budget.

National MPs really enjoyed that debate.

They said they were looking forward to hearing Labour MPs explaining to voters, between now and the election, why they didn't support tax cuts for poor families.

Those tax cuts, along with increased rebates through Working for Families and a big boost to the Accommodation Supplement, don't kick in until April 1 next year.

They won't kick in at all unless National wins a fourth term in September.

Labour doesn't oppose all the measures in the Taxation (Budget Measures: Family Incomes Package) Bill.

It supports increasing the Accommodation Supplement and "by and large" backs the changes to Working for Families.

It's the tax threshold changes it can't handle, and it's anxious to explain why.

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson says they're unfocused and benefit wealthy families more than low income families.

He has figures - $30 a week for wealthy families, $5 a week for poor families.

Armed with a can of food in parliament, he said it was all his office cleaner would get from the tax changes.

"And around 800,000 New Zealanders on taxable incomes below $14,000 get nothing at all - what's fair about that?"

Robertson is taking worst-case scenarios. Some people won't get much from the package and some won't get anything, but most families will be noticeably better off.

It will also mean 30 per cent fewer children living in poverty-stricken households, according to the government.

That's what the Greens decided they couldn't vote against.

Robertson has some work to do, and he doesn't have much time.

He's going to come up with Labour's own family support package and put it in front of voters before the September 23 election.

"It will actually target the families who need it most," he says.

"The bill that's before parliament creates a situation where there is $1.8 billion in tax cuts and $370 million on Working for Families."

Robertson says if the government was serious about helping the families it says its package targets, most of the money would have gone into Working for Families.

That, presumably, is what his own package will do.

But will he match the government when it comes to delivering the goods for low and middle income families?

Labour has always said it favours "rebuilding" core services like health and education ahead of cutting taxes.

"There are choices between a tax cut that's unfocused, or whether we fund early childhood education properly, or whether we make sure going to the doctor doesn't go up in price, or whether we reduce waiting," Robertson said on Friday.

That complicates things, and it will be interesting to see how he squares the circle.

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