Grant Robertson says time Nicola Willis stopped 'baseless attacks', reveals what she 'actually plans to do'

Grant Robertson is lashing out at Finance Minister Nicola Willis after she accused the former Government of leaving her with an "economic clean-up" in Wednesday's mini-Budget.    

The mini-Budget includes nearly $7.5 billion of savings as part of what Willis called a necessary clean-up as Treasury warns of slower-than-expected growth and just a "wafer-thin" surplus now expected in 2027.   

Willis used the release to once again hit out at the former Labour Government's economic management accusing it of "economic and fiscal vandalism".   

"Today's half-year economic and fiscal update (HYEFU) lays bare the extent of Labour's economic and fiscal vandalism," she said. 

The HYEFU, which was released by Treasury on Wednesday, includes forecasts finalised on November 24, so prior to the Government forming and without accounting for the new Government's mini-Budget decisions.  

Most significantly, Core Crown tax revenue is expected to be $1.6 billion lower across the forecast period compared to the pre-election update, including due to worse corporate tax take, while expenses are up due to higher debt-servicing.   

This means that while the Government's books will still return to a surplus in 2026/27, it will be by just $140 million compared to $2.1 billion forecast in the pre-election update.   

Willis described that surplus as "wafer-thin" and "deeper deficits" will necessitate the fifth consecutive increase to the Government borrowing programme, up by $7 billion more over the forecast period. The net debt track will be higher over the forecast period, Treasury said.   

But speaking to Newstalk ZB on Thursday Robertson hit back saying Willis needs to spend less time on "baseless attacks" and more time being the Minister of Finance   

"I think we need a lot less of the hyperbole from Nicola Willis and a lot more of what she actually plans to do," he told Newstalk ZB.  

Roberston said the consistent view from international experts is that New Zealand's economy has been well run in difficult circumstances, and Willis has no evidence to back up her claims.    

"She's the Finance Minister now, it's time she actually tells us what she's going to do instead of baseless attacks on me," he said. 

Robertson said he was clear in May this year that New Zealand was facing a challenging time and trade-offs would be required.  

"We all knew Budget 2024 was going to be tight and require some pretty significant trades offs, which is all the more reason why it's foolish for the Government to be continuing to pursue the tax cuts they said they were going to do." 

Robertson also hit back at suggestions it was disingenuous of him to make promises that were only funded in the short term.  

He said every single Budget has had time-limited funding and he inherited 155 of them when Labour took power in 2017.  

"These are the choices and the trade-offs Finance Ministers have to deal with, again I think Nicola Willis should stop with the diversions and focus on telling New Zealanders how she's going to pay for what she wants to do." 

Willis told Newstalk ZB later in the show the mini-Budget shows how the Government will deliver tax relief in the May Budget by saving.  

Willis said all the details would be finalised ahead of the Budget. She also once again hit out at Labour over the "fiscal cliffs" she claims were left behind, saying some are really problematic.  

She also rejected claims it was a Budget for landlords or land bankers.  

"I reject that, it's actually a Budget about putting New Zealand back on a stronger economic footing and that involves many things and part of that is also better tax settings," she told the radio station.  

It comes after Robertson hit out at Willis in response to her comments. In a press release on Wednesday, he said the mini-Budget is "nothing more than a litany of distractions, delays and diversions which leave the country without any certainty or coherent economic plan".    

"Nicola Willis' fictional narrative about the previous government consistently ignores the reports delivered by global ratings agencies and international organisations which credit the strength and resilience of our economy and have seen them increase or maintain their ratings.   

"The facts are that the New Zealand economy is around 7 percent larger than before COVID, unemployment has been at record lows, wages are rising and our debt levels are lower than most of the economies we compare ourselves too. It has been a tough year for New Zealanders with cost of living pressures as inflation peaked. But it is now on a downward track.    

"It is farcical to claim that there are any surprises in the Government's books which have changed little since PREFU in September. Just like every government there is a mixture of baseline and time-limited funding in the Budget. In 2017 Labour inherited a large amount of time-limited expenditure. It is up to the government whether that needs to be carried on or not in future Budgets," he said.