'Fewer people at the table': Grant Robertson all smiles at no longer having to please Winston Peters

Grant Robertson says this week's Budget allowed Labour to "address some issues that matter to us" with "fewer people at the table".

Notable for the biggest boost to benefits in decades, this Budget was the first the Finance Minister got to put together without having to deal with Winston Peters and New Zealand First. 

He told Newshub Nation on Saturday Labour has "always seen the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) report as the blueprint for what we wanted to do".

That 2019 report called for benefit levels to be increased by up to 47 percent, just one of 42 recommendations. 

The Government boosted benefits about $25 last year, falling well short of the WEAG's hopes. 

"We made some really good progress last term, but we were in a coalition Government. I'm not going to sugarcoat that," said Robertson.

"There were lots of different priorities, but I feel proud of what we did last term, and I feel very proud of what we did this week."

Peters promoted his party's role in the previous coalition Government as a "handbrake for silly ideas". NZ First didn't make it back into Parliament at the 2020 election, and Labour won enough support to govern alone.

Newshub Nation host Tova O'Brien put it to Robertson that Peters was behind the lack of progress in implementing the WEAG's recommendations.

"Well, we always saw WEAG as the blueprint, but there were a lot of different competing needs," said Robertson. 

"And, you know, let's go back to - the very first thing we did was the Families Package. We reversed the tax cuts; we brought in the Winter Energy Payment, the Best Start payment, all of which was able to go to beneficiaries. 

"But, look, there were always going to be competing priorities. I'm proud of what we did then, and I'm proud of what we did this week."

He rejected a suggestion that having to please Peters doomed children to spend longer in poverty.

"I don't accept that at all. We actually reduced child poverty over the term of the last Government. We did that by a range of initiatives. There are always going to be competing priorities. 

"It is obviously clear that Labour is now in Government on its own, and therefore, the Budget we put out today reflects our priorities. But in the last term of Government, we invested to reduce child poverty, and we did do that."

Despite this being the first Budget of the MMP era a party has been able to put together without compromise, Robertson said he couldn't pick a favourite of his four Budgets to date.

"They all have their own charm. You know, the first one was the Families Package. The second one was the Wellbeing Budget. The third one was COVID, which was, you know… Who knew that was going to happen? I'm proud of this Budget. I think it addresses some long-standing needs and makes some really important investments that are going to help New Zealand in the future. So, yeah, I'm not going to choose."

Asked if it was a "relief" not to have to please Peters, a grinning Robertson said there were "fewer people at the table".

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