As it happened: Budget 2019 released after week of drama

Budget 2019 was released this afternoon after a dramatic week of leaks, accusations of hacking and calls for resignations.

Mental health and child poverty have taken the lion's share of funding in the Wellbeing Budget as predicted - but there are some surprises.

Here are the main takeaways from Budget 2019:

  • $1.9 billion will go to improving mental health services, including $455 million for frontline services
  • $1.1 billion will be invested in child poverty reduction
  • $320 million will be set aside over four years to index benefits to average wage increases, rather than benefits rising with inflation
  • $256 million will go towards paying decile 1-7 state and state-integrated schools that don't ask for parental donations $150 per student
  • More than $1 billion will go to support KiwiRail's redevelopment, including $35 million to investigate purchasing new Cook Strait ferries
  • $50 million will go to boosting NZ's spy agencies
  • $80 million will go to Whanau Ora over four years as part of the Government's priority on lifting Māori opportunities
  • The Rainbow Community gets a big boost, with support funding increasing from $60,000 to over $1 million

These live updates have now ended.

5:15pm - Students will see some significant changes from this Budget, including new schools and classrooms thanks to $268 million from the School Property Programme.

Another $913 million will be set aside for the Ministry of Education, schools and communities to plan future property investments.

A total of $1.2 billion will go towards school infrastructure.
A total of $1.2 billion will go towards school infrastructure. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Parents will also be relieved to see NCEA fees abolished. The annual $76.70 fee might not sound like much, but Education Minister Chris Hipkins says it will level the playing field and help families make ends meet.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick is particularly proud of a $7 million Creatives in Schools programme which will see artists and other creative professionals partner with schools to share their skills with students.

Keeping with the theme of healthy minds in healthy bodies, $47 million will go to a programme promoting healthy eating and physical activity among school kids.

It's an attempt to address New Zealand's child obesity rate which is one of the worst in the OECD, with 12  percent of children aged 2 - 14 years classed as obese.

4:05pm - Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) says the Government isn't taking sufficient measures to improve the welfare system.

The Wellbeing Budget will set aside $320 million over four years to index benefits to average wage increases, rather than benefits rising with inflation.

AAAP coordinator Ricardo Menendez called it a "tokenistic move" that falls short of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's (WEAG) recommendation for an urgent increase of core benefit levels of up to 47 percent.

"The projected increase in beneficiaries' incomes as a result of the indexing changes will only result in an additional $27 - $47 a week by 2023, which is far less than what the WEAG recommended," he says.

"The net change of incomes as a result of indexing benefits to the average wage is small increase when the costs of living continue to increase, and the housing crisis shows little signs of easing for those on low-income."

Menendez says AAAP is also concerned the Budget lacks any additional funding for Housing and Urban Development or public housing when Auckland is in the grips of a housing crisis.

"The Government needs to introduce a wider range of welfare reforms and invest on public housing if it is serious about the wellbeing of low-income people. This budget, unfortunately, failed to deliver on these two crucial issues."

3:40pm - A key part of the Government's mental health funding will go towards tackling our suicide rates.

In response to recommendations from He Ara Oranga, $40 million will be invested over four years to give people at risk "intensive support".

As it happened: Budget 2019 released after week of drama
Photo credit: Newshub Nation

The Budget also includes a bereavement counselling fund which will provide four sessions of free counselling for up to 2500 people who have lost loved ones to suicide.

High suicide rates among Māori and Pacific people mean the Budget will fund up to eight programmes intended to strenghten personal identity and community connection.

3:25pm - Fish & Game has welcomed a $229 million Sustainable Land Use package.

"We welcome this move to assist farmers to become more environmentally sustainable so we can safely swim and fish in our lakes, rivers and streams," chief executive Martin Taylor says.

"This is public money going to the benefit of private farming businesses to meet the expectations of New Zealanders."

3:15pm - KiwiRail is another big winner with a boost of over $1 billion in funding for the programme to support its redevelopment.

Much of that will go towards buying new wagons and upgrading existing tracks, with $35 million to investigate purchasing new Cook Strait ferries.

KiwiRail is one of the winners of the Budget.
KiwiRail is one of the winners of the Budget. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

3:10pm - The Wellbeing Budget is good news for beneficiaries.

By April 2023, benefits will increase by between $10 and $17 a week because they'll be increased to average wage increases, rather than inflation. Benefits are currently indexed to the Consumer Price Index.

The Government had announced earlier this month it would allocate more than $200 million over four years to improve the welfare system.

2:55pm - The Finance Minister will not resign.

Grant Robertson told Newshub Nation he "completely rejects" Simon Bridges calling for him to step down after Treasury claimed it had been hacked, which the police later confirmed had not happened. 

2:40pm - The Children's Commissioner has praised the Government for prioritising young people's wellbeing in a way previous Budgets never have.

"Today's Wellbeing Budget takes seriously the need for a step-change in the way we support the wellbeing of New Zealand children," Andrew Becroft says.

"What is clear is that, avowedly and explicitly, this is a budget prepared through the lens of children - something unheard of previously."

The Government will invest $1.1 billion in reducing child poverty.
The Government will invest $1.1 billion in reducing child poverty. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

He says previous Governments have been guilty of "chronic underfunding" especially for children in need.

"The measures taken in this budget, coupled with the $5.5 billion Families Package, mean the child poverty reduction targets the government has recently confirmed are not only aspirational and ambitious but also appropriate and achievable."

The Commissioner also lauded the $1.1 billion investment into Oranga Tamariki and $28 million for iwi and Māori partnerships.

2:35pm - The LGBT community's got to be happy, with support funding increasing from $60,000 to $1 million under the new Budget. There's also $3 million that will specifically go toward funding gender affirmation surgery for transgender people.

2:30pm - Reactions to the Budget are rolling in, with the ACT Party calling it "stardust over substance".

"The stardust of the Wellbeing Budget hides a lack of substance from the Government when it comes to growing the economy and increasing living standards", leader David Seymour says.

"Budget 2019 fails to provide the fiscal policies needed for stronger economic growth. Labour is continuing National's approach of taxing one in every three dollars and wasting much of it on low-value spending."

2:15pm - Child poverty and mental health have taken the lion's share of funding, which was expected for the Wellbeing Budget.

The Government will invest $1.1 billion in child poverty reduction. This issue has remained at the forefront of Jacinda Ardern's political ideology throughout her career, and she has reiterated her desire to make New Zealand "the best place in the world to be a child". 

A further $1.9 billion will go towards improving mental health services. That includes a $455 million package to offer frontline services for 325,000 people who need mental health support before they experience major problems.

New Zealand's unemployment rate is expected to remain stable at roughly 4 percent. 

2:05pm - While addressing Parliament, Grant Robertson is emphasising that the Government has "embedded wellbeing" at every stage of putting together this Budget.

"Success is making New Zealand both a great place to make a living and a great place to make a life."

He says the March 15 terror attack changed New Zealand irrevocably, and that we must take the lessons from the tragedy to build a better, kinder country. He mentions increased funding for mental health services, $150 million for a semi-automatic buyback scheme and $50 million for intelligence.

2:00pm - The Finance Minister is about to present Budget 2019 to Parliament.

1:15pm - If you've been following any Budget coverage, you'll recognise Vicky Freeman and her daughter Ruby-Jean: they're on the cover of the document.

Vicky and Ruby-Jean Freeman modelled for the photo that ended up on the cover of the Wellbeing Budget.
Vicky and Ruby-Jean Freeman modelled for the photo that ended up on the cover of the Wellbeing Budget. Photo credit: Getty

It's sadly ironic the pair are the face of the Wellbeing Budget, as Freeman's had to move to Australia because she wasn't getting enough acting work to pay her rent in Auckland. 

She was completely unaware Treasury had used a stock photo of her and Ruby-Jean as their Budget cover until a friend messaged her two days ago.

"I don't follow [politics] at all, to be honest," she told NZME. "I would vote Greens because I'm a bit of gypsy and I don't get into what's going on."

12:35pm - Newshub Digital's own managing editor Mark Longley has weighed in on the week's events with an opinion piece asking: where have the adults gone?

12:05pm - The Finance Minister has officially broken out the cheese rolls, bringing some semblance of tradition to what has been a highly unconventional Budget release.

11:50am - Outgoing Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf probably won't be giving any interviews today, Newshub's Mitch McCann reports.

After Budget details were leaked by National, Makhlouf told The AM Show there had been "multiple and persistent attempts" to hack the Treasury.

In an embarrassing development, police later said someone appeared to have accessed classified Budget information by simply exploiting the Treasury website's search tool, which is not unlawful.

Simon Bridges confirmed this is how a National staffer obtained the details, and has called for Makhlouf to resign. 

Makhlouf is alredy on his way out, scheduled to leave the country in June to take up a role as governor of the Central Bank of Ireland.

11:30am - Newshub Nation will be live on Three from 1:58pm today with a special broadcast to break down the Budget. Tune in to find out what it all really means.

11:00am - In a funny bit of timing, just a week ago Treasury advertised a job listing for a Wellington-based web editor.

10:30am - In a major blunder, Treasury staff mistakenly handed out copies of the budget to journalists and political commentators.

Newshub's Political Editor Tova O'Brien tweeted that she was given one of the top secret documents. When the recipients questioned whether they were supposed to see them before going into the lock-up, she says an official asked "Are you not Treasury?" before hurriedly taking the copies back.

Political analyst Bryce Edwards says he was also mistaken for an official, and posted a photo of a staffer taking back the document.

Refresh the page for the latest live updates of Budget Day 2019.

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