Over-balancing the Books

Good news, of sorts; the nation’s books balance, even over-balance. It transpires there is a spare $1.8 billion left in the coffers, according to our Minister of Finance Bill English.

If running our nation were a business, this would be a great success. But it is not a business. Our government’s job is not to make a profit. Our government’s job is to manage our collective wealth in a way that benefits everyone who lives here. Underspending has dire consequences.

In order to achieve this surplus, many government-funded services essential for our collective wellbeing have gone without. State houses have been sold. Funds in the disability and social services have been frozen – in some cases for almost a decade. Care and support workers are still waiting for their pay equity claim, instigated in 2007, to be settled. Disgraceful as it is, many are still working for the minimum wage in a government-funded sector. And without a robust state housing sector, whole families have been reduced to sleeping in cars.

This government’s mantra has always been, ‘It’s a shame. We’d like to help but there is no money available.’ Clearly this is no longer the case, if it ever was. Let’s be honest, it has been a long time since adequately funding social services was the top priority of any government.

However, now at last there patently is money available. It is the time to settle the score. We do not need tax cuts for the wealthy. We do not need to squirrel it away into the national superannuation fund to invest in the likes of unsustainable palm oil, the petroleum industry, and the host of other socially and environmentally unsustainable industries the superfund tries to make money out of. We may well need more police officers, but a better investment would be to get to the root of problem and alleviate the social conditions that cause crime to escalate.

Those sectors that have borne the brunt of inadequate funding for far too many years need to have first priority when it comes to spending our newly found surplus.

The issue is not underspending or overspending, but spending wisely where it matters the most. Money left over means opportunities wasted.

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