Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Point of Order: Buzz from the Beehive - 26/9/23

Further funding for Pharmac (forgotten in the Budget?) looks like a $1bn appeal from a PM in need of a strong tonic

One Labour plan – for 3000 more public homes by 2025 – is the most recent to be posted on the government’s official website.

Another – a prime ministerial promise of more funding for Pharmac – has been released as a Labour Party press statement.

Who decides what is a government announcement and what is a party pitch for votes is far from clear.

The criteria that might distinguish a government announcement from a campaign pitch are similarly puzzling.

The statement about public homes – dated September 24, but not posted on the government website when Point of Order checked yesterday – comes from Housing Minister Megan Woods.

She was releasing the Updated Public Housing Plan: Including 2024 -2025 delivery, which outlines where the 3,000 additional homes announced in Budget 2023 will go.

Latest from the Beehive


Regions around the country will get significant boosts of public housing in the next two years, as outlined in the latest public housing plan update.

“We’re delivering the most public homes each year since the Nash government of the 1950s with one in six homes in New Zealand’s entire public housing stock having been delivered in the last six years,” Megan Woods said.

“Most of the 13,000 public homes delivered are brand new builds, and we’ve provided over 4,000 more transitional homes with wrap around services, but we’re just getting started.”

Woods’ was curiously imprecise when it came to identifying where exactly the new houses will go:

“Regions like the Bay of Plenty will get up to an extra 390 public homes and the East Coast up to 300 more homes, on top of what’s already in the pipeline.”

Which other regions “like the Bay of Plenty” will get up to an extra 390 public homes?

And may we suppose Labour essentially is doing its damndest to buttress its support in provincial areas?

“The update has a particular focus on increasing public housing in the regions compared to major metropolitan centres, which have seen strong public housing delivery to date,” Megan Woods said.

“We are on track to provide the 21,000 public and transitional homes we have funded, by 2025. This is a stark turnaround since the National government ended up with 1,500 fewer public homes than it started with, sucked out in $576 million in dividends, and failed to invest and build more housing.”

The press statement has been laced with figures aimed to remind voters what the government has achieved on the housing front:

In October 2017 there were 66,234 public homes. As of July 2023, there are now 79,510, an increase of 13,276, including over 11,000 brand new builds.

The statement also says:

The Government remains committed to the expectations set out in the Public Housing Plan 2021-2024…

But if the government was not committed, why would it have endorsed it?

The other statement of interest to Point of Order came from Chris Hipkins at a time when (we imagine) he is desperately hoping for an effective pick-me-up.

It is headed Labour Pledges Billion-dollar Medicines Boost and kicks off:

Labour will fund more medicines for more New Zealanders by investing over $1 billion of new funding into Pharmac if re-elected, Chris Hipkins announced today.

Over the past six years – the PM hopes to impress on us – Labour “has done more to increase access to medicine than any government before it”.

And now:

“Labour will turbocharge Pharmac funding to get more medicines to Kiwis in need.”

In dollar terms, Labour will provide $181 million of funding a year from 2024/25 (“so Pharmac can continue to meet the ongoing cost of the additional treatments we’ve funded in recent years”) and will pump in an extra $50 million for new treatments from 2024/25, rising to $100 million per year in 2026/27.

This funding boost will provide more cancer treatment as well as treatment for other conditions.

The boost will increase Pharmac’s funding by more than $1 billion over the next four years, a total increase of 62 per cent since Labour took office in 2017.

Point of Order checked back with this year’s Budget statements.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s Budget speech did not mention Pharmac but it did whoop

“… that from the 1st of July this year we are removing the $5 prescription co-payment for all New Zealanders.”

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall issued a statement on Budget Day to say removing the $5 charge will make it easier and cheaper for New Zealanders to access the medicines they need, having a meaningful impact for many households, particularly those who have multiple prescriptions to fill on a regular basis.

“This will benefit a huge range of people including almost 770,000 New Zealanders over the age of 65 who received prescription medicines in the community last year.

Pharmac did get a mention in Verrall’s statement, but without specifying new funding:

“This investment comes on top of the major expansion of access to medicines under this Government. Since 2017, we’ve increased the medicines budget by 51 percent.”

“The Government’s funding boost has allowed Pharmac to make an extra 212 funding decisions since 2017/18, including 75 new listings and the widening of access to 137 treatments.”

Pharmac was mentioned in despatches earlier this month when Ayesha Verrall opened the Canterbury Cancer Centre in Christchurch.

“Labour stands by its record in supporting those with cancer. We set up the Cancer Control Agency, rolled out a nationwide bowel screening programme and purchased more linear accelerator machines. We’re also paying the staff who look after those patients better and building the hospitals that are needed,” said Ayesha Verrall.

“We have also significantly increased Pharmac’s funding since coming into Government. Pharmac’s budget for 2023/24 will be around $1.3 billion. The increase in funding means that since 2017 they have made 214 funding decisions, including 76 new listings and the widening of access to 138 treatments.”

We can only wonder why the extra Pharmac spending now being brayed by the PM was not announced in the Budget or when Verrall was opening the cancer centre.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

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