Despite new focus on 'wellbeing', Budget 'won’t be perfect', Jacinda Ardern says

In the final countdown to this week's 2019 Budget announcement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there will be a focus on wellbeing but "it won't be perfect".

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The Prime Minister talked to TVNZ1’s Breakfast about what Kiwis can expect from the Budget ahead of its release this Thursday. Source: Breakfast

Finance Minister Grant Robertson will present the "wellbeing budget" this Thursday, after the Government is due to respond to the mental health inquiry tomorrow. However, no mental health spending announcements will be made until the Budget is released the following day.

Ms Ardern told TVNZ1's Breakfast today, "We made mental health one of five priorities in this budget. We do want to change the way that people access services and use services in this country. It is going to take us some time. This is an area where there has just been inadequate resourcing."

She said the issue was worldwide. 

"Everyone is talking about mental health being the great global crisis in health care...New Zealand, I think, is one of the few countries that talk openly about its mental health issues, but that can only be one of many actions we need to take."

Other countries throughout the world will be keeping an eye on what New Zealand does with the Budget, with many also making the shift to a wellbeing focus, Ms Ardern said.

"I do see it as a step change for the way we've done budgets before ... It is a first, so it won't be perfect. Indeed, no Government is. But I do think we need to start measuring our success differently as a nation."

The Budget won't just be looking at how the nation performs economically, although Ms Ardern did point out that aspect is important. It will also focus on new measures of long-term benefit to the wellbeing of Kiwis and our environment.

"But we won't change everything in one go," she said. "We've always said it's taken a decade to build up these issues, it's going to take us more than 18 months to resolve them.

"In lots of countries around the world, you've seen this move to wellbeing and happiness ... What we're trying to do is embed into our decision making...the long-term wellbeing of New Zealanders." 

She gave the example of work in prisons to improve inmates' wellbeing, including mental health and addiction issues, to try and reduce reoffending rates in New Zealand.

"It's a different way of measuring success and it takes into account evidence-based, but also trying to break intergenerational issues. It just gives a different example of a different way of thinking than we've tried to use for the Budget," Ms Ardern said.

There was a balancing act with investing in areas that need funding as well as surpluses being important.

"In our view, that's exactly what we're trying to do with this Budget," Ms Ardern said. "Surpluses, from our perspective, are important because we're a small nation that has the vulnerability of being earthquake prone, experiencing natural events - even, heck, having things like Mycoplasma bovis, biosecutity issues. Having a buffer, having a surplus, actually provides us some protection against those situations."

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The Opposition Finance spokesperson gives her thoughts on the Government’s half-year budget. Source: Breakfast

The Government has been criticised recently for the issue, as well as poor debt levels, but Ms Ardern disagreed.

"We're sticking to what we said we'd do, which is keeping [debt] at 20 per cent, which is a low debt level relative to other countries," she said.