Grant Robertson's economic superstition

The Finance Minister has a feeling 2018 might not be a good year for the global economy.

"If you look at history of the global economy, years ending in 'eight' haven't been as good as they might have been," Grant Robertson told Newshub Nation on Saturday morning.

That's why he's not apologising for his first Budget, saying its "prudent and careful" approach is designed to make sure there's money in the kitty should disaster - natural, manmade or economic - strike.

"I don't see any immediate sign of that in the global economy… but we've got to be mindful that we live in an era where there are security risks, there are geopolitical risks we've got to look out for, so we are going to be cautious about our spending."

Mr Robertson's superstition might have some merit - years ending in eight have traditionally been bad ones for the New Zealand economy.

In 1978, economic growth was below 0.5 percent. After a boom in the early '80s, it plummeted below zero in 1988 following the Black Tuesday market crash the year before.

After the highs of the early 1990s, which saw growth leap above 6 percent in 1993, in 1998 growth dropped below 1 percent. And in 2008, the global financial crisis hit, taking GDP growth below negative 1 percent.

Though it was the newly elected National Government which chartered New Zealand through those rough seas, Mr Robertson says the previous Labour-led administration deserves some credit too, after posting eight successive Budget surpluses.

"New Zealand entered the last financial crisis with very low levels of debt - that allowed us to weather that storm well."

Thursday's Budget has been widely seen as a cautious one, for better or worse.

"I don't apologise for that," said Mr Robertson. "We have a plan here - the plan is a three-year one, and hopefully a six-year one and hopefully a nine-year one. This is the first year of that plan."

He says if people want transformation, they'll get it - eventually.

"We can't transform the economy if we haven't got the foundations right, and the underfunding of public services over the last nine years has to be arrested, then we build from there.

"I encourage people to look at this as the first of those three Budgets - we cannot make the big changes New Zealand needs to make… if we don't have the foundations in place."

Critics on the left have suggested borrowing at record-low interest rates to fund promises the Government has postponed, such as extra police officers and welfare reform. Mr Robertson said as a small country, we need to keep debt low.

"Keeping our debt levels low - lower than other countries do - is important for New Zealand to be able to withstand things that are beyond our control."

So if 2018 doesn't turn out to be a repeat of '88, '98 or '08, Kiwis can probably expect to see a loosening of the purse strings in 2019 - but only a slight one.