Budget 2023: Our local wish list

by Lauren Pattemore - May 17, 2023

With Labour set to announce its budget for 2023 tomorrow, Crux has asked around to discover what locals in Queenstown, Wānaka, Cromwell and surrounds would like to see. Where do they reckon the brains of the Beehive should be focusing their spending (or saving)?

Top of the list was more focused spending on environmental initiatives and housing.

Cromwell's Duncan Faulkner.

Cromwell’s Duncan Faulkner – a software developer and the Lake Dunstan Charitable Trust chairperson – touched on both of these as packages he'd like to see in this year's budget.

He says “eco-innovation funding” is the way to do it, creating a contestable fund to help tackle the climate crisis, aimed at zero-fossil-fuel technologies and carbon-reduction projects.

He says more funding for mixed-home ownership would help keep quality workers in the region – and these workers are also in need of “warm, dry, affordable houses”. Government assistance would help.

“The net gains of retaining top quality workers for local industries will pay for this investment 10-fold.”

He also thinks New Zealand’s mental health sector needs a bit of a revamp.

“With 90 percent of the funding currently being spent on five percent of the people that need the help, we need to look at how innovation within the sector can support the other 95 percent of people who need support in our communities.”

Over in Wānaka, Wao co-founder Monique Kelly had a clear and focused list. After an already-treacherous year of weather events – and it’s only May – Ms Kelly says there needs to be more in the bank for recovery efforts, asking for more funding resilience needs to be put into future budgets.

“Major climate events will continue to impact our communities as well as slower impacts such as rising sea levels. We need to ensure that we can rebuild critical infrastructure and help communities retreat when necessary.”

New Zealand's biodiversity and sustainability sectors also should be recognised in budgets to come so they can continue their work, she says.

Wānaka's Monique Kelly.

“Those working on the frontline of environmental issues need reassurance of continued support for the incredible work that has been done, for example the planting and monitoring work undertaken thanks to the Jobs for Nature and Predator Free 2050.

“The skills, experience, and technology that has been gained [from this work] needs to be valued and not lost for lack of funds."

More generally, she's asking for more limits-based policies to be adopted within the Beehive and for their budgets to match.

“We do not have infinite resources and we need to make much better use of those that we have. Our economy has to operate within these boundaries and no longer run blindly to them.

“We need to invest not only in eliminating fossil fuels from our energy mix, but also educating communities and businesses on how to operate within our energy and materials limits."

Also the co-founder of Wānaka store Revology, Ms Kelly put her business owner hat on, offering further advice and suggesting the government looks at the current tax system through a multigenerational lens.

“What tax system would best benefit our children, our children's children and future generations? If we no longer factored in our own personal situation and based tax on the fair distribution of wealth and intergenerational equity, what type of system would we set up? My gut tells me that it would be fairly different to today.

“From a business perspective, investing profits back into the business is crucial if we want it to thrive. Distribution of benefits should only be done when things are going well. Tax should be viewed through this lens."

Also with a few things to say on behalf of businesses is Sharon Fifield, the chief executive of the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce.

“I think we all want to see some assistance with the cost-of-living crisis. Lessening the burden on small businesses will help towards that.”

And how could the government take some weight off the shoulders of Queenstown businesses?

Queenstown's Sharon Fifield.

She says removing “unnecessary compliance costs” would go a long way, like the cost of immigration accreditation, job check costs, and having fringe benefit tax exemptions for employer accommodation.

She’d like to see more funding focussed on planning and outcomes for regional workforces, as well as a twelve-month freeze on median wage increases, saying it’s causing strain on businesses to fork over wages and further fuelling inflation.

“In a town such as ours that will always rely on international labour to some degree there are limits to how much further total labour costs can rise before it becomes unsustainable and pricing for customers has topped out.

“It’s best for everyone if businesses can stay in business and keep providing jobs. Many employers are paying well above living wage or above already in order to compete for staff.”

Businesses could also do with more support in the tech and environment sectors, Ms Fifield says. The government could assist with the business adoption of new technologies and Destination Management actions.

She’s recommending implementing more incentives for businesses to adopt de-carbonization initiatives.

For housing, she’s got a few suggestions - build-to-rent accommodation for our district, a revisit of the residential tenancies act and re-instatement of interest deductibility for landlords to encourage long-term letting.

With these efforts, “we may just see the additional benefit of a drop in rents if it encourages supply”, she says.

Ms Fifield would also like to see the accommodation supplement adjustment request local leaders took to the parliament last year "finally" get over the line.

The government should also be financially backing education and other key sectors, she says.

“Invest in our pipeline of innovators, thinkers and don’t forget about our valued front-line workforce, teachers, care workers...”

Tracy Pool, over at Queenstown’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau provided a few quick thoughts from her on-the-ground observations.

She's asking for more accountability of government spending, more dollars towards community-led housing initiatives, and targeted accommodation support for Queenstown, not “just for residents but all workers”.

Queenstown hotelier, Mark Rose would love to see the government putting money behind attracting and retaining smart people in Aotearoa.

This includes investing more in those working in education, health, and with the police, calling their roles the “core building blocks to a better future for all”.

Queenstown's Mark Rose.

“Infrastructure has been sorely underfunded since the years of Rogernomics and the free market – an experiment that truly has not worked out for the greater good. We need to be investing in infrastructure that is focused on future needs."

He says government departments need to be working together more collaboratively, believing them to be in “silos” currently. He also thinks MBIE should be disbanded.

“They have proved to be ineffective in a time of crisis and masters of nothing.”

To a capital gains tax, he says bring it on, and to GST he says increase it, at the same time he’d welcome a drop in the tax threshold for lower and middle classes. He provided some reasoning:

“The tax system has too many loopholes allowing too many people to get away with not paying their fair share.”

There’s another tax he’d like to see implemented, not for New Zealand residents, but for the country’s visitors.

“A country-wide tourism tax which could be targeted/collected on foreign credit card spend (which could be as low as one percent) with the money going back to the communities where the money was spent.

“This would spread both the burden and the cost of collection.”

The Government's Budget for 2023 will be announced tomorrow, May 18.

The government's dropped a few teasers ahead of tomorrow's big reveal, including an announcement on Monday of an extra $3 million of investment in the education sector, complete with 300 more classrooms in the country, while last week Finance Minister Grant Robertson told the public he'd found a way to save $4 billion.

Previously, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has warned Kiwis it's a "no frills budget" for 2023.

Until tomorrow's announcement, Ms Fifield says she’s crossing her fingers.

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