Grant Robertson finds spare billion bucks for Budget 2021 but no word on how much for Māori

Finance Minister Grant Robertson asked colleagues to check their pockets and fossick down the back of the couch for spare change ahead of this month's Budget, and it's not a bad haul - a billion bucks. 

But there is still no word on how much should be targeted for Māori. 

"This exercise has yielded around $926 million of savings," Robertson said in his pre-Budget speech at Te Papa in Wellington on Tuesday. 

It's unspent or un-needed cash from the $50 billion COVID fund, and the Finance Minister is going to need every cent. 

"Budget 2021 will still be a COVID Budget," Robertson said. "This will be a 'Recovery Budget'."

Robertson is managing expectations and managing how this year's Budget will be spent. 

"The Prime Minister has asked me to lead the establishment of an implementation unit," he said, referring to team of five that will ensure that money spent actually gets results - unlike KiwiBuild and Auckland light rail. 

"I thought it was a vote of no confidence by Grant Robertson in his Cabinet colleagues," said National leader Judith Collins. 

"Mind you, he's probably right; they couldn't actually deliver Uber Eats, could they?"

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it is "absolutely not" a fail-to-deliver unit. 

"I would expect nothing less of a political response."  

There are serious expectations on the Government to deliver this Budget, especially for Māori.

Robertson was tight-lipped on Tuesday about how much of the housing budget will be allocated for Māori. 

"We'll get into that on Budget Day."

Robertson said every Budget bid is debated. 

Newshub revealed on Monday that after Pākehā ministers announced $3.8 billion for housing in March - not a cent for Maori - a stoush broke out between Labour's Māori caucus and Housing Minister Megan Woods. 

"Oh look, there were issues around the announcement that occurred in March," Labour MP Rino Tirikatene said on Tuesday. 

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson acknowledged negotiations can be "robust". 

Labour MP Shannan Halbert said he would "expect really robust discussions" in a Budget bid, while Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare described it as "healthy democracy". 

Labour Party deputy leader Kelvin Davis had been asked to mediate, and in a classic show of orchestrated unity on Tuesday they denied the scrap.

"I just want to categorically deny that there's any rift," he said. 

A Government source had told Newshub the biggest barrier to Māori getting what they need in housing is Megan Woods.

The Housing Minister said on Tuesday she is "absolutely not" a barrier to Māori getting what they wanted in the Budget. 

They were on the level there, but there was confusion about what was discussed when Dr Woods was brought down for peacekeeping with the Māori caucus a couple of weeks ago. 

She says funding was discussed.

"We were talking about various ways in which we could ensure that that fund was set up to enable housing on Māori land."

Davis says funding never came up.

"We didn't actually discuss funding."

Newshub pointed out that Dr Woods had just mentioned the Housing Acceleration Fund. 

Davis said Dr Woods gave a "briefing" and they had a discussion "and that was really it".

High-level confusion settled just in time for the Budget countdown.