Election 2023: Parliament in hysterics over Nicola Willis' awkward question to Grant Robertson

  • 03/08/2023

There was a moment of levity in Parliament on Thursday as politicians of all stripes cracked up over an amusing question from National's finance spokesperson. 

Amid reports of a colossal hole in the Government's revenue, Nicola Willis asked Finance Minister Grant Robertson: "How big is his hole?"

As she began to continue with her line of questioning, she clearly realised what she had asked and paused before laughing. The rest of the House was also in hysterics. 

Robertson, off camera for those watching Parliament TV, could be heard yelling out: "That is not in the public interest, I can assure you."

Willis, calming herself down from the humorous exchange, then apologised and corrected herself.

"How big is the New Zealand Government's financial hole?". 

After Question Time, Robertson was asked about the question.

"As I said, it's not in the public interest for me to discuss anything about that."

As he said that, Willis walked past, with the pair laughing.

She said she was feeling "embarrassed". 

"Often my kids say to me, 'What did you do at work today?' I guess this is a story that they will relate to more than some of the others."

She apologised to New Zealanders for putting that image in their heads.

"No offence was intended by the remark."

It came after allegations on Wednesday from former deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters that there is a $20 billion hole in the Government's revenue. It was also alleged by the New Zealand First leader that public service bosses met to discuss cuts.

Robertson has denied the allegation, calling the claim "totally, utterly incorrect". He said the $20 billion figure is "fanciful".

He said the latest Crown accounts released in July showed that revenue for the 11 months to May hadn't matched what had been forecast at the Budget and the upcoming pre-election economic and fiscal update would show whether that "sticks around". 

The Crown accounts for the 11 months ending in May showed a Core Crown tax revenue was $2.2 billion less than what was forecast at the Budget. This was due to lower corporate profits and investment returns, Robertson said at the time. 

The Operating Balance Before Gains and Losses (OBEGAL) for those 11 months was a deficit of $6.5 billion. That was $2.1 billion higher than forecast at Budget 2023. 

Robertson denied he had lost control of the books.

"New Zealand's books are in good shape. Just two days ago, Moody's, one of the major credit agencies, said exactly that. What we have seen is the revenue forecast that the Treasury had in their Budget in May, when we come to see the Government accounts in July, they had not been met."

He said he met with chief executives as part of the Government's fiscal sustainability and effectiveness programme, which was announced in the May Budget.

Robertson said in the House that that was "an ongoing programme of work because we are a responsible Government that seeks to make sure that we manage what is in front of us and seeks to make sure that we get a balance between fiscal sustainability and supporting New Zealanders".

He rejected that the Government had been spraying cash, pointing to $4 billion of savings found ahead of the Budget.

Watch the video above.