NZ PM pitches budget based on wellbeing

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has outlined her government's plans for a "wellbeing" budget.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has outlined her government's plans for a "wellbeing" budget.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pitched what she says will be the first-ever "wellbeing" budget by a government.

Her administration this year has vowed to take a new approach to its finances, saying it will no longer just crunch numbers on economic data, but also a variety of social indicators in search of long-term solutions.

"I don't think it's the end of GDP, I think it's the beginning of doing things differently," Ms Ardern told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"It's about bringing kindness and empathy to governance ... Our people are telling us that politics are not delivering and meeting their expectations. This is not woolly, it's critical."

While the concept of a wellbeing budget was floated to the New Zealand public last year, the 38-year-old Labour Party politician has used the forum to make the case to other leaders. She also penned a Financial Times opinion piece talking about a need for an "economics of kindness" as an alternative to protectionism.

The plan reflects growing discussion in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and International Monetary Fund about looking at outcomes beyond the economy.

The UK, Austria, Mexico and Korea have all in various forms mulled "wellbeing" frameworks for government, and experts say New Zealand may serve as a case study. OECD officials are planning to visit New Zealand this year to report on the plan.

"Other countries, for a number of years, have had scorecards, they have done analyses. But what we're doing with the wellbeing budget is we're trying to embed it in the way we make decisions," Ardern told media.

"Maybe, if we can prove it can be successful, others can look to it."

Back in New Zealand, some opposition politicians haven't embraced the idea.

"New Zealanders can't pay the rent with wellbeing. They can't fill up the car with kindness," the libertarian ACT party's leader David Seymour says.

The centre-right National Party, meanwhile, has called it an "attempt at slick branding" to distract from what is said was a softening economic outlook.

Ardern's government will deliver its budget in May. Ministers will be looking to measure data and track policy changes in five key areas such as child poverty and mental health.

Australian Associated Press