Budget brawl: Twyford and Collins trade barbs on the books

Judith Collins says it's a good thing there's a royal wedding happening this weekend - it'll take voters' attention away from the Government's "broken promises".

Thursday's Budget - Finance Minister Grant Robertson's first - was seen as a win for the health, education, housing and welfare sectors.

"I think Grant Robertson's first Budget has landed in exactly the right place," Housing Minister Phil Twyford told The AM Show on Friday morning.

"Everyone knew and expected us to rebuild health, housing and education, and a $3.7 billion surplus. It's fiscally responsible and we're laying the foundations for the future."

National's housing spokeswoman, appearing alongside Mr Twyford on The AM Show, wasn't so positive.

"The best thing for Grant Robertson is the royal wedding," said Ms Collins. "Everyone will be focused on the royal wedding and everyone will forget about all the broken promises. That's what he's counting on."

Mr Twyford fired back with a barb of his own, saying there's a silver lining in it for Ms Collins, after National leader Simon Bridges' "appalling" response in the House.

"You should be happy, Judith. This is perfect for your leadership campaign."

Health claims contested

As for the substance of the Budget, Ms Collins took particular umbrage at claims the Labour-NZ First coalition has put more into health than National did.

"They're talking a 4.1 percentage increase - we actually did a 4.2 percent increase the year before, so that's not a big deal."

According to the 2016 Budget, $16.2 billion was allocated to health, increasing to $17.1 billion for National's final Budget in 2017 - an increase of $900 million. Labour's first Budget increases that again by $1 billion to $18.1 billion - a similar increase in both real terms and percentage to National's last Budget.

Ms Collins slammed the Government's decision to take $200 million off the drug buying agency Pharmac.

"I remember Jonathan Coleman getting slammed around about drug buying and Pharmac not having enough money - now they're taking $200 million off it."

Mr Twyford said by taking over drug buying for the DHBs, Pharmac said it was able to save about $200 million. Pharmac itself said in a statement it was "pleased" with the Budget.

Judith Collins and Phil Twyford.
Judith Collins and Phil Twyford. Photo credit: The AM Show

As for housing, Mr Twyford defended the decision to fund only 1600 new state houses a year - less than the 2000 he was going for.

"I said I wanted 2000 extra state houses a year - we campaigned on 1000 extra, and I got 1600. We're delivering 6400 extra state and community houses in the next four years. The old mob reduced the amount of public housing by 1500 in the last nine years."

The old mob reduced the amount of public housing by 1500 in the last nine years."

Ms Collins said Housing NZ was being forced to borrow to build those houses, but Mr Twyford said that wasn't a problem.

"Apparently it's okay for Steven Joyce to have Housing NZ borrow, but we're not allowed to. Housing NZ has got a balance sheet of $25 billion - why would you not use that balance sheet to build more state houses? Judith's Government took billions of dollars out and put them back in the Government's coffers in the middle of a housing crisis."

Grant Robertson, James Shaw and Jacinda Ardern.
Grant Robertson, James Shaw and Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Fees-free 'misunderstanding'

Mr Robertson himself sought to dispel a "misunderstanding" about one of the new Government's costlier policies -free tertiary education. At the moment it's just the first year that's free, but there are plans to extend it to cover the length of a normal three-year degree.

Mr Robertson told The AM Show people mistakenly thought the policy was only for academics heading to university.

"Actually, that pays for two years of an apprenticeship for both the apprentice and the employer. The whole point of that policy is to get more people training.

"We are seeing a pick-up in workplace training there already, and we're going to see more of that in the future."

He said most of those benefitting from the policy weren't even going to university.

"Of the 80,000-odd people who are going to benefit from that first-year free policy, about 50,000 of them are either apprentices or in workplace training. There's a big number there."

And they'll be needed, he joked, because Mr Twyford won't be able to build the 100,000 promised KiwiBuild affordable homes on his own.

"Phil's not that great with a hammer and nail himself," Mr Robertson said.