Election 2020

Election 2020 latest: Parties exchange blows over Treasury numbers

Newsroom's political team reports on the day's biggest election news: the Government prepares to give a pre-election fiscal update, as National offers more money for Pharmac

New Zealand’s economy has performed better than expected in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown, new Treasury figures show – but the longer-term pain ahead is set to be greater than anticipated as the world slowly recovers from the pandemic.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has claimed the numbers as a vindication of the Government’s ‘go hard and early’ response to the virus, while acknowledging “there is no free lunch here” regarding the debt being accrued.

The Treasury has released its Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU) ahead of the October 17 election, giving both politicians and the wider public a better idea of the state of the Government’s books.

You can read a full rundown of what the PREFU document outlines - including both best- and worst-case scenarios for the economy - in this story from Newsroom's political editor Sam Sachdeva.

While Robertson has trumpeted the stronger than expected figures in the short term, other political parties seeking to chip away at Labour's lead have focused on the longer-term pain coming down the line.

National leader Judith Collins accused Robertson of taking a "rose-tinted glasses view at a dreadful picture", with 100,000 more Kiwis expected to lose their jobs in the next two years, while ACT leader David Seymour said the short-term "sugar hit" from the wage subsidy scheme and other fiscal stimulus could not disguise the longer-term effects of rising debt.

 New Zealand First leader Winston Peters also took a crack at his coalition colleagues, saying the new government needed "a stiff backbone to resist Labour and the Green parties' grandiose spending plans".

The update will give political parties an opportunity to update their own spending plans to account for Treasury forecasts around future GDP growth and Crown revenue.

Collins has said National would soon release its fully-costed fiscal plan, with Labour putting pressure on its political opponents to explain how it would meet its debt target while increasing spending and reducing revenue in take - what Robertson dubbed a "Bermuda triangle" in his PREFU speech.

TOP promise to give councils $2.5b a year for infrastructure

The key role local government plays in infrastructure has been acknowledged on multiple fronts this election.

Robertson has expressed his desire for a tighter partnership between central and local government if Labour are re-elected. On Wednesday morning the Association of Consulting and Engineering released a study arguing governments should send more money to local councils to help them keep up with infrastructure spending (analysis on Newsroom Pro here). 

TOP has jumped into the issue too with a policy promising to reserve approximately $2.5b every year from central government's GST tax take for councils to spend on infrastructure.

The amount is meant to represent the percentage of GST revenue the government collects from development work in council areas every year.

TOP leader Geoff Simmons and Ōhāriu candidate Jessica Hammond want to give councils more central government cash. Photo: Supplied

Councils would be able to apply for a share of the fund for infrastructure projects.

The amount they were eligible for would depend on the level of GST collected from development work in their area.

All applications would be subject to a business case process with a heavy-emphasis on Benefit-Cost Ratios(BCRs). 

TOP Party leader Geoff Simmons and Ōhāriu candidate Jessica Hammond launched their policy in front of the Mt Victoria Tunnel which is a road link between Wellington's CBD and the airport that both National and Labour have promised to expand. 

Money from TOP's promised fund would be unlikely to go to the tunnel because current business cases have it delivering a BCR of less than one (less than a $1 of benefit returned for every $1 spent on it). 

Simmons acknowledged that while large scale roading projects would be unlikely to secure funding under the scheme he said many three waters projects - like upgrading Wellington's failing water network - would. 

"There is a real problem with local government infrastructure. Local Government has been doing their best to fund infrastructure over the past couple of decades, but now they're hitting up against debt ceilings," Simmons said.

"And at the same time, they're having their revenue crunched by Covid. So there's a massive issue there that needs urgent attention from the government.

"And this is a big deal because this determines really how much we can deal to the housing crisis."

Māori Party calls for overhaul of education system

In its education policy released today, the Māori Party has called for an overhaul of the mainstream education system. This would include at least 25 percent of the education budget going to "Māori models of delivery and pastoral care".

Māori education would be funded through equity-based models and operational funding for kōhanga reo would be significantly increased. Teachers at kōhanga would also receive pay equity with their mainstream peers.

A $200 million fund would be established to "drive whānau, hapū and iwi education and training initiatives including the establishment of new hapū-based wānanga" and more scholarships for young Māori and te reo speakers to be trained as teachers would be made available.

Over the entire education system, the expulsion of children under the age of 16 would be banned. Free digital services and free internet would be funded for all children in Years Four to 13. Te reo Māori and Māori history would be added to the core curriculum in primary schools and up to Year 10 in secondary schools.

More pathways for school leavers would also be created, the party says, including a $276 million fund for STEM and STEAM academies. The number of Māori and Pacific trade training and cadetship placements would be doubled and fees would be permanently removed from apprenticeships.

"The Māori Party vision for education is to ensure that all tamariki are supported to be themselves and receive high-quality education that sets them on the pathway to achieve their dreams, regardless of where they go to school," party co-leader and Te Tai Hauāuru electorate candidate Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said in a statement.

"Due to a huge range of factors including availability and resourcing, most Māori children are still in mainstream education. That’s why we have policy to overhaul the mainstream Pākehā system and support Māori students and teachers by tackling inequity, racism and the digital divide head on."

National takes aim at waitlists

The National Party has launched a health policy platform aimed at tackling elective surgery waitlists, along with funding more drugs to combat cancer and rare diseases.

Health spokesman Shane Reti said they would "change the dial" in primary health care by installing primary care navigators in 1000 General Practice(GP) locations around the country. 

"More and more is being asked of GPs as a tsunami of need - including vital mental health need - makes its way into clinics and primary health care teams are struggling."

"The primary care navigators will bring a range of skills and could be somewhere between a social worker or a lived-experience practitioner with an appropriate qualification."

The practitioner could counsel some who came in to GP offices and help redirect others to different government services.

During a policy launch at the Wellington headquarters of the New Zealand Rural Farmers General Practice Network, the party also pledged its support for a third graduate medical school which would train doctors to become rural GPs.

However, the party has said it wouldn't support several recommendations of the Health and Disability system review led by Heather Simpson - including one that recommended cutting down the number of District Health Boards (DHBs). 

Reti accused Labour of presiding over a decline in healthcare access where performance targets also hadn’t been met.

“Even before Covid-19’s emergence we were seeing cracks in our health system.”

Under the health policy, district health boards would have four months to perform elective surgeries or be forced to fund patients to get them done elsewhere. 

On the DHBs themselves, Reti said he liked some aspects of the Health and Disability System review, but his party would not go along with its suggested changes around cutting down the number of DHBs. 

"What I don't like with that report is we will not be reducing DHBs, down to eight to 12.

"And I think the Government should be brave enough to go on the campaign trail and say which DHBs are not going to make it if that truly is their line of direction...put that on the campaign trail."

A funding boost for the Pharmaceutical Management Agency (Pharmac) is also high on National’s agenda. 

If elected the National Party has promised to increase Pharmac funding at the same rate it increases overall health funding, while also ring-fencing some new spending for drugs to tackle cancer and rare diseases.

A rare diseases fund would be allocated $20m over four years and Pharmac would either have to use that money or return it to the government. 

Cancer drugs would also get a dedicated fund and allocation of $50m per year. 

Reti acknowledged some of this funding could be affected by the effects of border closures on the cost of medicines - as it already has - but he pledged the party's funding of Pharmac would keep ahead of these price increases if elected. 

US pharmaceutical supplier Apotex announced it would withdraw from the NZ market by the end of next year - leaving a major hole in our supply of medicines. 

"The sole supply principle that Pharmac had was caught a bit short...could medicines be more expensive? Yes they could.

"We're going to put more money into Pharmac. Whether that's going to be enough we'll see as we make our way through coronavirus."

All up National's extra spending on health would add up to $800m over four years. 

The Party would also initiate a tender process for the creation of a third graduate medical school with a focus on training up graduate students for rural GP roles.

Reti said it would pick up the process where the previous National government left it.

"There were some indicative business cases done. There were proposals from Waikato. There were proposals from Auckland and Otago.

"We want to review that process. Start off from where they left it and look at it again [and ask them] what is your offering?

"Here's our need, here's what we want to achieve, what can you or any other tertiary institution in New Zealand offer to meet the need that we have?"

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