Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivering the Budget last month. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES
A public Budget meeting in Masterton was cancelled on Wednesday after protesters disrupted sessions further north earlier in the day.
However, Finance Minister Grant Robertson made time to talk about the key issues with reporter Tom Taylor on his way back to the capital.
Unfortunately, Wairarapa business owners and residents didn’t have the chance to ask any questions about this year’s Budget. What kind of sentiment did you get from the meetings in Waipukurau – and Dannevirke before it was cut short?
This is a tough time for businesses and households. They’re grappling with cost-of-living pressures and inflation that have hit off the back of two years of covid.
People are genuinely doing it tough in many cases. That’s why the Budget had support around the cost of living, along with what we’d done earlier in April and May.
TT: Some of Wairarapa’s critical concerns are infrastructure, transport, and housing. How does the Budget address these areas?
GR: The Budget has more than $60 billion of investment over the next five years in housing, roads, and rail, building schools and hospitals, and so on.
They’re issues that we know about. They’re long-term challenges for New Zealand, but we’re getting on and trying to solve them.
TT: About a third of the Budget was set aside for health, including a kickstart to the health reforms. What does this money hope to achieve?
GR: Unfortunately, we’ve got a situation where your postcode dictates the kind of care and support you get.
We want to change that. We want more services available in the regions, and the locality plans that are part of the health reforms will do that.
TT: Wairarapa’s chronic nursing shortages have repeatedly made headlines in recent years. What kind of work is being done to attract more staff to the region?
GR: We’ve funded a significant number of new nurses – about 3000 over the past three years. But we’re in a global market when it comes to many of those jobs.
We have to work really hard to make sure we’re putting New Zealand’s best foot forward in general and supporting regions like Wairarapa to make sure they’ve got the staff they need.”
TT: Once these new nurses are trained, how do we keep them here?
GR: Some of our talent gets attracted overseas, and we attract some people here. This has been the case forever, but the borders being shut made it a bit harder to manage that.
We can’t trap people in New Zealand. But every graduate nurse in New Zealand is offered a job now.
There’s guaranteed employment for people – we’ve just got to keep pushing that and making sure those options are there.
TT: What would entice people to work in Wairarapa specifically?
GR: There are good career progression opportunities in the regions for health. You can find yourself moving up through the ranks more quickly. There are good lifestyle reasons as well, in terms of housing affordability, and Wairarapa has good schools.
TT: We’ve talked about retaining New Zealand’s workers, but the Opposition has labelled Budget 2022 the “brain drain budget”. How do you respond to this assessment?
GR: This Budget is about getting the balance right between getting the books back into shape post-covid, investing in cost-of-living support, and those long-term issues about creating the jobs that mean people won’t leave.
The kinds of investments we’re making in healthcare, climate change, and supporting small businesses give people ample reason to stay.
TT: The American stock market has just entered a so-called “bear market”. How does our own economy square up?
GR: New Zealand’s economy is in better shape than most, having come through covid. There’s every reason for us to be confident. It’s going to be a challenging year, no doubt, but this Budget is about economic security. I’m proud of it. Others will make their own judgments, but given the circumstances, I think New Zealand is in as good a spot as anybody.