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Robertson relishes budget opportunity

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 17/05/2017 Karen Sweeney

Steven Joyce will hand down his first budget as finance minister next week, a responsibility that for the last eight years fell to his predecessor and now boss Bill English.

It's a budget that will be scrutinised carefully by many, but perhaps few more so than Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson who is no doubt hoping it will also be Mr Joyce's last.

If Labour wins the election in September the responsibility of managing the government's finances would fall to him.

Not only would he be staring down the barrel of his first budget but also the first for the party in a decade.

The last was presented by Michael Cullen in 2008, just months after New Zealand was hit by recession.

Mr Robertson wasn't even in Parliament then, not elected until 2008, but he's not worried about the pressure a budget could bring.

"No I'm relishing the idea, I'd love it," he told NZ Newswire.

"I think a budget is a really important time for a government to lay out its vision and its plans and we've got a big, bold programme to improve the lot of everyday New Zealanders and we're anxious to get the chance to implement that."

The election is still a few months away but campaigning is underway and Labour have made some big announcements about what they would deliver.

Labour and National can agree, according to Mr Robertson, that the government's books are healthy enough to fund what he calls the "building blocks of opportunity" - housing, health and education.

But he admits Labour's big ticket, expensive ideas like KiwiBuild and three years free post-secondary school education and training will take time to implement.

That means assessing urgency and priorities.

"It's about priorities, it's about phasing it in in a responsible manner but being clear that at the end of this we will have made some big changes that we think will be really beneficial for New Zealanders," he said.

He's managed budgets in the past including a "quite different and significantly smaller" $7 million aid programme for Samoa and knows there's always more demand than resources, so he's clear about what he sees as the priorities.

"Having a good, warm, dry home delivered, having a health system that looks after you, having an education system that's fit for purpose for the 21st century - they're the things that occupy my mind as priorities."

Ultimately what Mr Robertson wants to achieve is something he believes every government should aspire to and that's for everybody to get a fair share in prosperity.

Mr Joyce will present National's ninth consecutive budget on May 25, watched closely by Mr Robertson who will be after inspiration of a sort.

"I'll be listening carefully and working out what we can do better next time," he said.

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