22 May 2015

Budget 2015: Compassionate conservatism?

8:26 am on 22 May 2015

The Prime Minister has described Thursday's Budget as an example of compassionate conservatism.

Steven Joyce (left), Paula Bennett and Bill English arriving at the 2015 Budget lock-up at Banquet Hall, Parliament.

Ministers Steven Joyce (left), Paula Bennett and Bill English arrive at the lock-up at Banquet Hall. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

John Key said the books were in order and new spending had been targeted at some of the country's poorest families.

Prime Minister John Key speaking to journalists

Prime Minister John Key (file) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"Twenty-five dollars for people who would normally get a benefit of $300, so it's about an 8.5 percent increase, plus if you add in the additional childcare that they may get, it's quite a lot," he said.

Finance Minister Bill English told Morning Report the extra $25 per week for beneficiaries with children was a start to improving the lives of these families.

He also defended the Government's move to require single parents to be available for 20 hours of part-time work when their children reach the age of three.

If the parents do not accept a job offer, their benefits can be reduced.

The Greens have said the plan is not fair but Mr English said a high percentage of mothers of three-year-olds were back in some form of work.

He said the move was aligned with the Government's subsidised childcare, which kicks in at the age of three.

Opposition parties said the Government was giving with one hand and taking with the other, and said it had also broken an election promise by introducing a new tax.

From January, people flying into the country will have to pay a border clearance levy of $16, and those leaving will pay $6.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little said that amounted to a tax, something the Prime Minister said at the last election the Government wouldn't be doing.

Mr Key said it was a levy to protect the country's borders.

"Our tourism numbers are really rising - they're three million passengers this year - and they should pay towards our biosecurity here in New Zealand."

Andrew Little giving his 2015 Budget speech.

Labour leader Andrew Little gives his Budget 2015 speech in Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the budget also broke a promise to solve child poverty.

"The Government has done the absolutely barest minimum for those at the very bottom," she said.

Mrs Turei said there was no indication as to how many children would be raised above the poverty line as a result of the measures.

But Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said $25 a week was a significant increase. She was proud of the $790 million spent on children living in hardship.

"That's going to have an effect on the lives of 500,000 people, and that's no small thing."

Ms Fox said New Zealand had not had a benefit increase for 43 years.

Maori Party MP Marama Fox

Maori Party MP Marama Fox presents a petition on child poverty at Parliament Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Little said the new work requirements on solo parents on a benefit, or partners of beneficiaries, including having to be available for work when their youngest child turns three, were tough.

"When you look at the figures, we're at 3 percent growth, with unemployment hovering around at 6 percent, so this is as good as it gets."

He said there was no way the Government was going to provide meaningful jobs for people who would be pushed off a benefit once their child turned three.

Labour - Govt easing poverty, not ending it

Labour's finance spokesperson Grant Robertson told Morning Report there was a difference between easing people's poverty and lifting them out of poverty altogether.

"It's $25 for those who get it, for a whole family - they'll be pleased for that. But there's a big difference between making it a little bit easier to live in poverty and actually having a plan to lift people out of poverty, and we did not see that in the Budget."

He said people seeking extra work to meet new work requirements would struggle to find it.

"The bottom line is, there isn't a plan in this Budget to create the kind of economy where those people will get jobs," he said.

"It's all very well to say, we want people to go out and work extra hours but the reality for a lot of people is, they will struggle to find that work out there."

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said there were jobs, and that was why the Government was confident to do that.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the Minister was in la-la land. "Well, you tell me - in Kawakawa, Kaikohe and places like Dargaville, how do you impose that rule when there is no work," he said.

Mr Peters said scrapping the $1000 kickstart for KiwiSaver was also a stupid move. He said the country desperately needed savings, and the Government had given middle-income earners a kick in the guts.

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