NZ Election 2020: Government's opening of the books reveals some surprises

The Government books have been opened showing just how much COVID-19 has cost us and how much more it will sting before it gets better - it's not as nasty as initially expected but it's still bad. 

"There is no free lunch here," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at the launch of the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU), the first official financial update from the Government since the Budget in May and the last before the election.

Far from free - try closer to $58.1 billion. That's the cost of COVID-19 and there's a human cost too, with 7.8 percent unemployment expected in the next two years. 

"That 7.8 percent is significantly better than the predictions made at Budget and I can recall standing in the Beehive being presented with numbers like 20 percent," Robertson said on Wednesday. 

But it still represents more than 100,000 Kiwis about to lose their jobs, writ large on Wednesday with the announcement of 385 Air New Zealand cabin crew set to be made redundant by Christmas.

"That is a significant issue for those people. It is very tough when you lose your job, particularly in circumstances like this," Robertson said. "I don't underestimate how tough that is for the people involved."

The opening of the books has exposed the state of the economy - it's not good but not as god-awful as expected with some surprises too, like housing. 

Treasury predicts house prices will fall a little - 5.1 percent to June next year - but then they pick up as if COVID-19 never happened. 

The Government is unable to say when our borders - which have been shut since March - will reopen. Treasury has taken a punt, predicting January 2022. 

Robertson said that's not the timetable the Government is going off. 

"Our hope would be to move quicker than what is forecast by the Treasury," he said. 

National Party leader Judith Collins suggested Treasury doesn't have confidence in the Government's handling of the virus. 

"Treasury's really telling us that they don't have confidence in the Government either and their border plan," she said. 

ACT leader David Seymour said the rest of the world "will not wait for us" and that we cannot guarantee that a vaccine will be available by then. 

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said, "If we can't get our borders open much quicker than that, then the situation will just worsen."

As for how the Government has handled COVID-19 and the economy, it really depends who you ask. 

Robertson repeatedly said on Wednesday that the Government has "cushioned the blow" by stimulating the economy with the wage subsidy, business tax refunds and small business cashflow loans. 

But Collins described the Government's books as "dire reading", and that New Zealand was looking at the "worst recession in living memory". 

National's finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith described the PREFU as "deficits as far as the eye can see". 

The books are firmly in the red. We ended last year with a surplus of $7.5 billion dollars. That's become a $23.4 billion dollar deficit, expected to bottom out at $31.7 billion. 

Treasury believes it could take more than a decade to get back in black. 

National won't commit to bringing that forward, Collins saying: "You'll have to wait for our plan."

National will release its alternative Budget this week and says it's not blown it. 

"Our medicine is going to be excellent medicine," Collins said. 

Everyone is promising to have the cure for an economy bedridden with COVID-19.