Coronavirus: Grant Robertson says strong economy means there's enough money to get us through another lockdown

The Finance Minister is playing down fears there's not enough money left in the kitty to handle the economic hit of the latest COVID-19 lockdown.

The Opposition and lobby groups in the past few days have accused the Government of already spending money set aside last year in case the deadly virus came back. On Tuesday it did, this time in the more virulent Delta form, triggering a nationwide lockdown that's set down to last until at least Tuesday night, but most probably longer. 

"The Government has been dipping into the $50 billion COVID fund, with $515 million on school lunches, $26.6 million for cameras on fishing boats and the day we went into lockdown it announced $17.1 million from the fund for 'creative spaces'," ACT leader David Seymour said on Thursday. 

"Other spending includes: delivery of a business case for the replacement of Te Papa's Spirit Collection Area, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the implementation and the Housing Acceleration Fund."

The Taxpayers' Union called some of the spending "very silly", highlighting funding for arts and poetry and what it called "art therapy". Speaking to Newshub Nation on Saturday, National leader Judith Collins also highlighted the $761 million spent on the Three Waters stimulus programme, which her party has previously said will cause more problems than it solves

Each week the country spends in level 4 is estimated to cost the economy between $1.5 and $2 billion. 

"We can survive for a significant amount of time," Grant Robertson told Newshub Nation. "As we've shown in the first round of COVID-19, the New Zealand economy is incredibly resilient. I'd put that as a worst-case scenario, the $1.5 billion - we'll see where it actually ends up landing."

"But regardless, the New Zealand economy has shown its ability to come back from this."

The New Zealand economy has outperformed expectations since eliminating widespread transmission of the virus in mid-2020. The March quarter saw 1.6 percent growth, 2.4 percent for the year and unemployment is back to pre-COVID levels.

"Obviously the reason we put in supports like the wage subsidy scheme and the resurgence support payment is to make sure we support businesses through this. We've done it before and I'm very confident we can do it again." 

Robertson said decisions to spend some of the COVID fund - money borrowed last year at record-low interest rates - were made "some time ago", but wouldn't hurt the economic response to this latest crisis. 

"We've allocated money for business support for example, not all of which has been spent, we can allocate and use that now. We have the resources to be able to do this. The New Zealand economy has performed significantly better than had been expected. Resources are available to us if we need them, but we have carefully managed this and we can and we do have the money that we need to support New Zealanders to get through this." 

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