Budget 2020 reactions: Simon Bridges tells Kiwis to prepare for 'greatest burden of debt in our history'

Simon Bridges is telling Kiwis to prepare for the "greatest burden of debt" in New Zealand's history as Budget 2020 revealed a $50 billion fund to help the country through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Treasury has revealed net core Crown debt is forecast to reach more than 50 percent of GDP, way up from below 20 percent where it was before COVID-19, and Bridges warned it will lead to an intergenerational debt crisis. 

"Today we are seeing an extra $140 billion of debt," Bridges said in Parliament. "That's $80,000 per household and it's our children and grandchildren who will be paying for it. That's equivalent to a second mortgage on every house."

The Opposition leader said it "all needs to be paid back" and warned New Zealanders to prepare for a "tsunami of debt about to wash over us". He said it represents the "greatest burden of debt in our country's history by a long way". 

Bridges speculated that it will be paid back through increased taxes, pointing to comments Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made in Parliament last week refusing to rule out increased taxes to pay for the COVID-19 crisis.  

"We know Labour is instinctively in favour of increasing taxes and now they have their chance. Vote Labour and mark my words, this time next year, the kindness will be gone. Higher taxes are the last thing New Zealanders need right now."

The Prime Minister made an offer to Bridges to "see this period in our history for what it is - a global crisis" and to see Budget 2020 "for what it is - a response to the rainy day we have planned for". 

Ardern said rather than "argue about who gets to hold the umbrella", she hoped the Opposition would "step away from business as usual" and support the Budget because of the "jobs it will create". 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the fiscal stimulus is expected to save up to 140,000 jobs over the next two years, and support employment growth of 370,000 over four years. 

It comes as unemployment is forecast to increase significantly, rising to 8.3 percent by June, before peaking at 9.8 percent in September, and recovering thereafter. 

Recent data from the Ministry of Social Development showed the number of Kiwis on the jobseeker benefit jumped from about 145,000 before lockdown to just more than 184,000 at the start of May.

The Prime Minister is confident Budget 2020 investments will help get Kiwis back into jobs. 

On top of a targeted extension of the wage subsidy scheme, $1.6 billion will provide free trades and apprenticeship training, $1 billion to get Kiwis into environment-focussed jobs and an additional $3 billion on infrastructure to stimulate the economy. 

The Budget also provides incentives and grants to encourage e-commerce, train more digital advisors, and support entrepreneurs and businesses looking to invest in new research and development. 

You can read more about that here.  

How has Budget 2020 been received?

Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope welcomed the free trades and apprenticeship training, describing it as a way to "turbo charge" the skills development New Zealand needs.

"Being able to get the people and skills they need to thrive is critical for New Zealand businesses. It is good to see the Government acknowledge the critical role that industry leadership needs to play in our skills system."

Canterbury University Professor Adrian Sawyer questioned how the debt will be paid for. He said it will be "left to determination in the future, importantly after the 2020 general election".

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts welcomed the $400 million tourism recover fund in the Budget, but said further initiatives will be required in the months and years ahead to save it from collapse. 

Roberts welcomed the wage subsidy extension, but said some tourism operators will be disappointed it is only for an additional eight weeks.

Canterbury University Professor Michael Hall agreed that extending the subsidy is worth it, because domestic tourism "already was the mainstay of many tourism businesses" in Aotearoa

Roberts said the $1.1 billion investment managed by the Department of Conservation to create 11,000 environment jobs in the regions is a good policy that will "enhance our natural attractions" and provide "real job opportunities".

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said he was pleased to see investments in reducing family violence, in Whānau Ora services and housing, as well as specific funding for Māori. 

Professor Iain White from Waikato University said the $3 billion infrastructure fund doesn't meet the $136 billion worth of applications submitted to the Government for its 'shovel-ready' projects

"There are going to be many disappointed people, and, if it is spread around the nation as previously indicated, that figure will not go very far at all."

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