Labour releases updated fiscals after Prefu, says will stick within self-imposed spending, debt track rules; Brings forward 3-years' free tertiary education policy

Labour has announced an updated set of fiscal forecasts for its own election spending promises which show the party sticking to its self-imposed Budget Responsibility Rules that will keep government spending below 30% of GDP and the government’s net debt falling to 20% of GDP just a few years after National.

The party on Tuesday also brought forward its promise for three years’ free tertiary education to 2018. The staggered plan will allow for one year of free tertiary education for those who start studying in 2018, two-years’ free for those starting in 2021 and three-years’ free for students from 2024. The announcement brings the timeline foward by one year.

Labour also announced it would also boost student allowance payments by $50 a week from the start of 2018. “Right now a typical student receives an allowance of around $170, but many tell me that’s not enough to even cover their rent,” leader Jacinda Ardern said.

“We can afford to do this because we have rejected National’s tax cuts. Now is not the time for tax cuts that would give $400 million to the top 10 per cent of income earners,” finance spokesman Grant Robertson said.

“Labour’s spending commitments have all been fully costed and can be delivered in line with our Budget Responsibility Rules,” he said. “These rules include running sustainable surpluses, reducing net core crown debt to 20 per cent of GDP within five years of taking office, and prioritising long term investments, such as re-starting contributions to the Super Fund.”

The fiscals leave $7.5 billion of unallocated operating spending – effectively the “buffer” pot that could be used for further Labour and/or coalition partner policies if Labour sticks to its entire policy platform. This is down from about $10 billion in Labour’s initial fiscal forecasts, as the party has now announced extra policies including the tertiary education plan.

The tertiary plan – earmarked under ‘reforms to tertiary education’ in the document – is forecast to cost about $350 million in 2017/18, rising to $743 million in 2021/22. The additional student allowance spending is expected to cost $275 million a year.

Due to variations in Treasury’s Prefu forecasts from the May Budget, Labour has updated its expected Crown spending and debt tracks. They show slightly higher core Crown expenses as a proportion of GDP over the next two years – 29% as opposed to an average of 28.7% of GDP based on the Budget track – still remaining under Labour’s 30% ceiling. The following three years come in a bit below initial picks. Even that leaves open the prospect of extra coalition partner spending. 

Labour stuck to its promise to return government debt to GDP to 20% by the end of the 2021/22 year down from a forecast 23% of GDP at the end of 2017/18.

Read Grant Robertson’s release on the fiscals below:

Labour’s Fiscal Plan, updated following last week’s pre-election opening of the Government’s books, shows Labour will deliver a significant investment in core public services while responsibly managing the country’s finances, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson.

“Labour will invest in better education, affordable housing, greater access to health services and lifting children out of poverty, and we’ll do so without increasing income tax.

“The updated Fiscal Plan today confirms our priorities, and our commitment to a credible and responsible management of the public finances.

“Now that we’ve seen the Government’s books we’ve refined our plan to deliver a better deal for New Zealanders.

“The plan sees Labour investing an additional $8 billion into health, $6 billion into education and $5 billion into families over the forecast period.

“Labour’s Tertiary Education policy announced today, including delivering the first year of three years free post-secondary education in 2018 and boosting student allowances by $50 per week, is an example of Labour’s commitment to a progressive and inclusive future.

“We can afford to do this because we have rejected National’s tax cuts. Now is not the time for tax cuts that would give $400 million to the top 10 per cent of income earners.

“Labour’s spending commitments have all been fully costed and can be delivered in line with our Budget Responsibility Rules.

“These rules include running sustainable surpluses, reducing net core crown debt to 20 per cent of GDP within five years of taking office, and prioritising long term investments, such as re-starting contributions to the Super Fund.

“As with Labour’s original Fiscal Plan released in July, this plan has been analysed and vetted by independent economic agency, BERL.

“Voters have a clear choice this election between a tired National Party, bereft of ideas and running out of steam, or an energised Labour Party ready to deliver a better and fairer New Zealand,” says Grant Robertson.

Jacinda Ardern’s three-years’ free tertiary education policy announcement is below:

Labour will increase the amount students can get in student allowances and living cost loans by $50 a week, while accelerating our plan to make three years of post-secondary education free, says Leader of the Opposition Jacinda Ardern.

“Labour’s plan will mean more young people can go on to study after school and gain qualifications with less debt.

“Students have told us that the priority needs to be living costs. Just getting by week-to-week has become a significant barrier to many people continuing to study.

“Right now a typical student receives an allowance of around $170, but many tell me that’s not enough to even cover their rent.

“Labour will therefore boost living cost assistance for students by $50 a week from the start of 2018.

“I’m keen to remove tertiary fees as quickly as possible, so I have brought forward by one year our three years’ free policy. From the beginning of 2018, everyone starting tertiary education for the first time will get one year full-time study fees free. That will be extended to two years free in 2021 and three years free in 2024. If conditions allow, we will accelerate this policy further.

“At the same time, we will restore the ability of people studying on long courses, like medicine, to get student allowances and loans. These high-level qualifications are in growing demand; it makes no sense to deny support to people studying towards them.

“This policy is funded out of the $6b that Labour has allocated to education in our Fiscal Plan, which has been independently assessed by BERL.

“Post-secondary school qualifications are becoming a necessity. If New Zealand is to be a wealthy, successful country in the 21st Century we need more of our young people going on to universities, polytechnics, other tertiary providers, or industry training such as apprenticeships.

“Yet, the proportion of young people in post-secondary school education and training is falling. We can’t continue going backwards on education if we want to go forwards as a country.

“Our commitment to life-long learning underlines the clear choice voters face this election – Labour believes in free education for everyone, and that’s what we’re working towards,” says Jacinda Ardern.


* This article earlier headlined ‘3-months free’ instead of ‘3-years free’ tertiary education. It is 3 years.