Cameron Bagrie hits out at National, Labour for lack of investment in education during NZ's economic woes, warns of 'significant' consequences

An independent economist says New Zealand politicians need to prioritise education spending now otherwise the country's economy will suffer dire consequences in the next few decades. 

It comes as the price of goods and services skyrockets in Aotearoa stoked by high inflation. Figures from Statistics New Zealand show annual inflation increased a whopping 7.3 percent since the June 2021 quarter - the largest year-on-year increase since 1990. 

In response the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has hiked the Official Cash Rate, pushing the cost of borrowing up and house prices down.

The Labour Government has rolled out a $350 payment to Kiwis who earned $70,000 or less and met several other criteria in response to the increasing cost of living. It also slashed the petrol excise tax and halved public transport costs temporarily. Meanwhile National has promised tax cuts to help Kiwis survive if it is elected. 

But independent economist Cameron Bagrie told AM on Tuesday both parties are missing the ball when it comes to investing in education. 

"You've got a political party that's promising to spend a bit of money, you've got another that's delivering the prospect of tax cuts. The reality is at the moment there's not an awful lot of money within the kitty in the 2023, 2024, and 2025 Budget so you have got to be pretty selective in what you prioritise," Bagrie told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green on Tuesday. 

"I find it somewhat surprising that no party is out there prioritising education because you think about where New Zealand is going to be 10, 20 or 30 years down the track, well education is going to be the biggest investment that we can make."

Bagrie said both parties are too caught up in the immediate issues and need to focus more on the long-term solution. 

"They [politicians] don't seem to realise that reality, it's all about tax cuts for some and confetti style spending approach for others.

"[We need to think about] where the New Zealand economy is going to be in 10 to  20 years down the track because we've got declining attainment and we've got declining attendance…You put that combination together and you're not going to have a happy outcome for the economy. 

"Why has one political party not managed to grab this thing by the scruff of the neck and not be the chart holder or hold that banner in terms of, 'We are going to invest in New Zealand's future and the investment has to come from education'. No one seems to have that mantel."

He said both parties seem unaware of the dire consequences the country's economy will face if education isn't adequately funded. 

"Rome is burning in regards to what is happening in the education sector across New Zealand. We know we are going to have some very significant economic consequences from underinvestment in education," he warned.  

Cameron Bagrie says "Rome is burning in regards to what is happening in the education sector across New Zealand".
Cameron Bagrie says "Rome is burning in regards to what is happening in the education sector across New Zealand". Photo credit: AM

At the National Party conference over the weekend Opposition leader Christopher Luxon accused the Government of "economic and social failures" because of issues with New Zealand's education system. 

"The Government is spending $5 billion more a year on education, but now only 46 per cent of our children are attending school regularly.

"These are economic and social failures under Jacinda Ardern's watch, yet she never holds herself or her ministers accountable for them.

"It's shameful," Luxon said. 

Luxon is yet to reveal his Party's plan for education if he wins the election next year. Instead, the National leader revealed the Party's welfare policy which includes cutting payments for 18- to 24-year-olds on the jobseeker benefit if they do not make sufficient effort to get a job. 

In the 2022 Budget, the Government invested an additional $1.66 billion of operational spending and capital investment of $815 million over four years for education. 

Watch the full interview with Cameron Bagrie above.