PM John Key defends equality after protest

NIKO KLOETEN AND JOSH FAGAN
Last updated 14:45 16/05/2014
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax

Protesters express their discontent towards the National Party.

Budget protest
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Protesters outside Auckland's SkyCity Convention Centre.

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Prime Minister John Key has gone on the attack over inequality, saying the gap between rich and poor isn't widening.

But his message didn't wash with a noisy protest group at Sky City, where Key was speaking at a post-Budget event.

Key said opposition claims of worsening inequality were incorrect.

"Over the last decade New Zealand has not become any more unequal. 

"Maybe at the margin it has become slightly less unequal."

Key also questioned opposition claims the wealthy weren't paying enough tax, saying the top 2 percent of taxpayers pay 22 percent of all personal tax, and 12 percent of households pay 76 percent of all net tax.

"If that 12 percent isn't paying enough, how much is enough, because it's a pretty good question."

Earlier, protesters clashed with police and security guards outside SkyCity in Auckland.

A group of about 60 people tried to storm in through the entrance of the entertainment complex, but were quickly stopped and ordered to stay behind a police line. 

The group, mostly made up of students, shouted rallying cries including "f... you, John Key" and "stop the war on the poor".

Police tackled several people but have yet to arrest anyone. They warned via megaphone that anyone who attempted to cross the police line would be arrested.

One elderly man wearing a tie that said "Jesus is the way" was involved in a scuffle, but later shook hands with police.

The protest followed similar scenes to a 2012 protest against the government’s budget, where 43 people were arrested.

But students said today’s event was not intended to provoke police officers or create violence.

"The police are not our target, the scumbags inside are," Auckland University student organiser Ben Rosamond said to the crowd through his megaphone.

He said students were angry that the main beneficiaries of Thursday’s budget were big corporations.

Labour MP Maryan Street said she sympathised with students and said the budget showed the government was "arrogant and out of touch".

She addressed the crowd, saying more was needed to be done to improve job prospects for students and young people, and address child poverty.

"While we have crap wages and no prospects of having good jobs, we will always have child poverty," she said.

Colourful banners depicted National politicians Judith Collins and Hekia Parata as a toad and dinosaur, respectively.

Street said the signs and loud chants demonstrated people’s anger.

"People express (their anger) in ways they hope will get noticed. I’m not opposed to that."

About 25 police officers and at least 10 security guards were stationed outside the entrances to the convention centre during the protest.

'SPENDING A MILLION AN HOUR ON BENEFITS'

Key said the Government hadn't cut the social safety net and had borrowed billions over the past six years to maintain entitlements such as benefits, Working For Families, the accommodation supplement and pensions.
 
"We're spending $1 million per hour to pay for the benefits in New Zealand."
 
The Prime Minister seemed unfazed by the contingent of protesters outside the event, saying the protest was organised before the content of the Budget had been announced.  "I suggest they read it."
 
He also appeared happy with the reaction to the Budget, joking that Finance Minister Bill English was disappointed it had been overtaken in news media by a story about a cat rescuing a boy from a dog.
 
"I was quite relieved because it could be yet another story about Stephanie Key taking her clothes off."
 
His speech focused mainly on the economy, talking about issues such as housing, Government debt and foreign investment.
 
Key said when the current Government was elected in 2008 Treasury forecast Government debt would reach 90 per cent of GDP by 2020, but now it was on track to have debt below 20 per cent of GDP by that point.
 
"We have about $90 billion less debt today than we would have if the country hadn't changed course."
 
He also spoke about the housing market, saying house prices increased by 96 per cent during Labour's nine years in Government but have only increased by 28 per cent during the current Government's six years in charge.
 
Reiterating the Government's stance that foreign buyers are not having a major impact on the market, he said boosting supply was crucial to preventing runaway house price inflation, particularly with net migration increasing.
 
"It's not that a lot more people are coming to New Zealand, it's that a hell of a lot less are leaving New Zealand."
 
The main change had been fewer people leaving for Australia, which this week announced a deficit of A$50 billion in its own Government budget.
 
"There were 3000 per month leaving for Australia under Labour.  Last month it was 350, the lowest since 1986, and the people who advise me are telling me it could go positive," Key said.  "We need to build more homes."

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