Budget 2023: ACT Party accuses Government of 'drip-feeding' cyclone funding announcements

The ACT Party has accused the Government of "drip-feeding" cyclone funding announcements in the lead-up to the election.

Earlier on Sunday, the Government announced a massive $1 billion new package of support for flood and cyclone-ravaged communities, including an additional $275 million to repair roads, a $100 million flood protection fund, and a commitment to return all schools to their pre-weather state.

The Budget 2023 announcement is about responding to the "immediate recovery needs" and investing in "greater resilience for tomorrow", Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said. 

"This is about doing the basics - repairing and rebuilding what has been damaged and making smart investments," he said. 

"This recovery package will get roads, rail and schools back to where they were before the extreme weather hit this year so communities can get back to normal as soon as possible."

The 'North Island Weather Events Response and Recovery Package' is made up of $941 million in total operating allowance and $195 million in capital. This is on top of the already nearly $900 million allocated through a rolling maul of announcements in the aftermath of the events.

Treasury has estimated the damage from the Auckland Anniversary Weekend floods and Cyclone Gabrielle in February to cost between $9 billion and $14.5 billion. Of this, about $5 billion to $7.5 billion is estimated to relate to central and local government infrastructure.

While Finance Minister Grant Robertson said this "significant" package isn't the end of the Government's support, the announcement hasn't gone down well with Opposition parties.

ACT leader David Seymour accused the Government of "drip-feeding" funding announcements as the October 14 general election draws closer.

"Frustrated locals have had to wait months for funding and certainty so they can get on with their lives," he said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.

"The $1 billion announced doesn't come close to the $9 billion to $14.5 billion Treasury has estimated the damage from Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods will cost.

"It appears the Government is going to drip feed funding announcements over months leading up to the election."

New Zealanders need certainty the Government has a plan to fix the damage, Seymour said, so they can plan their lives "with confidence".

He added the Government "would do well" to adopt some of ACT's policies it announced in early March. The party set out three principles for recovery: Cutting "unnecessary" projects and reprioritising expenditure to the rebuild, reducing bureaucracy and removing red tape to assist the rebuild, and ensuring a local response takes precedence over central planning and intervention from government departments.

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty Images

Among other policies, ACT also proposed removing Resource Management Act barriers to rebuilding and repairing with special legislation so the recovery doesn't need to wait for consents, beefing up the Recovery Visa so that it lasts for three years and has 48-hour processing turnarounds, and replacing council building consent processes with private insurance so that people didn't need to wait for council consent if an insurer is prepared to insure the building.

Seymour said ACT's solutions would bring immediate relief to affected communities and would help ensure they can build back better.

"Recovery is going to be costly, and the Government's response must be wary of sparking another run of inflation and interest rate rises," Seymour said. 

"New Zealand families can't afford a repeat of the COVID response where a surge of wasteful spending, funded by borrowing contributed to the cost of living crisis."

Meanwhile, National Party leader Christopher Luxon supported the Government's new infrastructure investment but believed there was a lack of clarity around future land use.

"I think if you are a grower or a farmer, you're wondering what's in this package for you. I think if you are also a homeowner or a business owner, you want real clarity about your future land use and I don't see anything there for that," he said during a press conference on Sunday afternoon.

"So my message to the Government is, we need you to move quickly to make sure you support those sectors that are so critical to our future but also make sure you give people clarity about their land use."

Christopher Luxon.
Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Newshub.

He was in Hawke's Bay earlier in the week and said it was "interesting" talking to growers there.

"They want real certainty about that land use, whether they actually are going to be red-stickered, whether they need to do an adaptation, or whether they can rebuild."

The Prime Minister's previously said the cyclone recovery would be funded through usual annual operating and capital allowances, as well as savings, reprioritisations and by taking on more debt. The Finance Minister this week announced Budget 2023 includes $4 billion in savings.