Budget 2021: The Oliver Twist Cartoon — how Jacinda Ardern remembers 'the Mother of all Budgets'

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF
Finance Minister Grant Robertson explains some of the details from Budget 2021.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was aged 10 when Ruth Richardson delivered her so-called “Mother of all Budgets” on July 30, 1991.

She recalls it, she says, because of a cartoon she saw in the paper.

“My dad was an avid reader of the newspaper, it was every night, come home, six o'clock, read the newspaper in his chair.

“The newspaper was out on the dining room table. And I remember a cartoon that had a little boy holding a bowl up to, you know, a large, kind of Oliver Twist-style saying, ‘Please, Mum, can I have some more?’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, visit the Wellington City Mission Social Supermarket in Newtown on Friday.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, visit the Wellington City Mission Social Supermarket in Newtown on Friday.

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“And I remember that cartoon. And just, you know, even though I was ten, I remember that. And so that, to me, is just that's how impactful it was at the time.

The theme of correcting a thirty-year-old welfare cut was central to Grant Robertson’s Budget, which was handed down on Thursday. He claimed it was about righting the wrongs of that 1991 Budget. In response, Richardson – the Finance Minister who delivered that Budget – called Robertson’s comments a cheap shot and his budget an exercise in paying off Labour supporters.

“As the old saying goes, you're only three crises away from potentially being homeless in any given time,” Ardern told Stuff.

STUFF
Stuff political reporters Henry Cooke and Luke Malpass give a quick first look at the 2021 budget.

“And yet, perhaps some years ago, there wasn't that sense, there was a bit of a sense of ‘other’ in those who are accessing government support. And that is not how we should view these systems,” she said.

Stuff caught up with the Prime Minister for a quick chat the day after the Budget. Ardern said that it is an odd day for people in her job because, unlike most major Government announcements, it is the day when Prime Ministers take a back seat to their Ministers of Finance.

Ardern told Stuff that while increasing benefits was a “moral” consideration for her Government, it was also designed as a quick economic stimulus.

“We have put an enormous amount into infrastructure spending, and we have to be realistic about what capacity we have to continue to deliver in a timely way.

“Know the outcomes that you want from those investments, right?” So if you want to have a stimulatory effect, there’s no point putting it into projects that are going to deliver in 10 years’ time.”

The benefit changes would not be undone by any new National Government, Party leader Judith Collins said. BusinessNZ boss Kirk Hope also said, if anything, the Government could have boosted the new benefit levels even further.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she hopes a new social insurance scheme will be in place by the end of this term in Parliament.
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she hopes a new social insurance scheme will be in place by the end of this term in Parliament.

The Prime Minister also discussed the Government’s newly mooted ACC-style social insurance scheme. At present, there is no funding in place for the scheme, but it was an item in Labour’s election manifesto last year.

“It's common in other places, we just don't have it here,” Ardern said.

Although the details are sketchy so far, Grant Robertson signalled during his Budget speech that it would be based on the ACC, so would pay 80 per cent of an unemployed person’s salary up to a cap and on a time-limited basis.

Ardern said that the things that prompted investigating the idea – which would be a huge change to New Zealand’s social security system – were the earthquakes over the past 15 years and Covid, which had highlighted a need for a more permanent system of wage support for people losing their jobs.

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF
Judith Collins says Budget 2021 was a "disappointing budget" which has "almost no plan" for improving the economy.

Wage subsidies were deployed by the National-led Government in response to the Kaikōura earthquakes, and by Labour last year when the nation was plunged into lockdown.

“And the question for me, it was, is this the best way to operate? Or do we need to develop some, you know, social infrastructure really, that has this built into our system in the same way that Scandinavia does,” Ardern asked.

“The one issue that we were mindful of right from the beginning, though, is it does raise the question of ... if someone who loses the job is able to access support, but someone who has a stroke can't.”

The idea is that the new system, which is favoured by both BusinessNZ and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, will be designed to cover job loss, regardless of the circumstance.

“And so that's why our starting point is let's explore whether or not we can actually have a system that regardless, if you're in work, and you find yourself in a situation where you're suddenly unable to, for whatever reason, can we pick up that cohort?”

Ardern said she hopes the new scheme will be enacted by the end of this Parliamentary term.

“That means actually moving fairly fast. But we need to talk to a lot of people about how we would make such a mechanism work,” Ardern said.

  • CORRECTION. This article originally said Ruth Richardson’s ‘Mother of all Budgets’ was in 1990. Richardson’s Budget was in 1991. Corrected 9:07am, 22/5/2021.