Around Parliament, Budget time is one of the busiest times of the year. Last week, things were hectic.
A number of people were left with the impression that the Greens had voted for “the Budget”. This is incorrect. The Green Party did not – and will not – vote for “the Budget”.
The Budget is what allows National to govern. If National failed to pass the Budget, all its legal ability to tax and spend would dry up and the Government would fall apart. There is no way we would vote for the Budget, because that would be supporting the National Government and its agenda.
Budget time often brings other legislation too, which gets debated under urgency. This year, there were two such Bills:
- The first was a Bill giving effect to the settlement of the high-profile gender pay equity case for people in the caring profession, brought by Kristine Bartlett.
- The second was a Bill changing Working for Families and income tax thresholds.
We voted in favour of both of these.
We voted for the pay equity Bill because, well, we believe in pay equity. The Bill the Government introduced is far from perfect. But it has been a long time coming and it fits comfortably within our Green Party policy and our values.
The Working for Families legislation was also far from perfect. But we voted for it because, imperfect as those changes are, they will make a positive difference for some people. We had to make this decision quickly, but we did not do so lightly.
Ending child poverty in New Zealand has consistently been one of the Green Party’s top priorities for many years now. The Government’s Bill is not the transformative income support and tax package that a Green Government would put in place (we’re working on that – watch this space).
But the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that National’s changes to the Family Tax Credit will bring between 35,000 and 50,000 children out of poverty. We asked ourselves if we could in good conscience oppose something that would help up to 50,000 kids, and on balance, we decided that we couldn’t.
In the Budget two years ago, National raised benefits by $25 a week. Both the Greens and Labour supported that, even though we both knew that not all families would get the full $25, and even for those who did, we knew it wouldn’t be enough.
But it was something – and so, last week, we made a similar call to vote for a package of measures that will mean that New Zealand’s hardest up families get even a little more.
Our friends and colleagues in the Labour Party made a different call last week. That’s quite common.
Since the last election, we’ve often voted differently from Labour. On 68 occasions, Labour has supported National while we have opposed National. And on 11 occasions, we have supported National while Labour has opposed. (At the third reading of Bills).
We’re different political parties, after all. When MMP arrived a little over 20 years ago, many of us hoped it would lead to a more pluralistic Parliament, where political parties came together in different formations around the merits of any given policy proposal.
About 40 Bills have passed unanimously since the last election with the support of all political parties. A lot of what Parliament does is relatively uncontroversial.
On this occasion, we’ve talked it through with Labour. They understand why we supported National’s tax and Working for Families Bill and we understand why they opposed it. Those talks began on Budget day itself, when Opposition parties go into a small room together and have an hour with the Budget books before everything becomes public at 2pm.
It’s been a year this week since we signed the MOU with Labour. The MOU is an agreement to change the Government – not to always do everything the same way as each other.
We’re looking forward now to the election, and to this time next year when a new Finance Minister will deliver an entirely new kind of Budget that puts people and the planet first.
We might even replace the Budget’s traditional blue cover with a nice shade of green.
James and Metiria