NZ must fund higher healthcare, pensions while avoiding debt blowout

Gabriel Makhlouf: the sooner the better

New Zealand needs to consider how it is going to fund rising healthcare and pension costs while avoiding a blowout in government debt, Treasury says in its latest statement on the nation's long-term fiscal position.

On the nation's current track, revenue will fail to meet expenses by the mid-2020s, Treasury says in its third such outlook statement to the government. The report, which must be produced every four years, aims to stir debate on options to address the shortfall.

The two areas of government spending projected to grow significantly are healthcare and superannuation. On healthcare it is projected to grow to 10.8 percent of gross domestic product by 2060 from 6.8 percent in 2010. Spending on New Zealand super is predicted to increase to 7.9 percent of GDP in 2060 from 4.3 percent in 2010.

"The sooner we make decisions or choices, the better," Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf told a briefing in Wellington ahead of the report's release. "There is no crisis. If we start thinking about gradual change rather than change in crisis circumstances we will be able to address (the issues) in a much more effective way.

"There are examples throughout the world of societies having to put in place radical change quickly which is much, much harder."

Treasury projections for government expenses, revenue and debt show net debt could balloon out to 198 percent of gross domestic product in 2060 if no changes are made, from a forecast 27 percent in 2020.

The government's lead economic policy adviser suggests four broad options for closing the looming gap between projected spending and revenue.

Adjust income tax thresholds

The country could automatically adjust income tax thresholds to compensate for price inflation growth. This would see the government collect more tax and be able to spend more while still maintaining debt at an average of 20 percent of gross domestic product over time. But this would probably have negative economic growth impacts.

Alternatively, the level of GST consumption tax could be raised to 17.5 percent from 15 percent in the 2018 financial year, which would also enable higher spending while maintaining debt levels. Raising GST would ensure costs were spread across different income groups.

GST is essentially a tax on labour so any economic growth effects would be negative. Also, it could prompt people to buy more goods from overseas, decreasing revenue and hurting the local retail industry.

Separately, the government could reduce the pace of growth in healthcare spending, so it reaches only 9 percent of gross domestic product in 2060 rather than 10.8 percent. Still, that is likely to mean those who have the means could buy treatments which were not funded while others may not be able to access them.

The country could also increase the age of eligibility for New Zealand superannuation to 67 years from 65 and index the level to price inflation rather than wage growth from the 2020 financial year.

However, that means the impact would fall mainly on people whose primary income was New Zealand super, raising equity concerns. On the other hand, it may boost economic growth by encouraging people to work for longer and save more.


4 · Got a question about this story? Leave it in Comments & Questions below.

This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about MyNBR Tags

Post Comment

4 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

Capital gains tax. Get it done!

  • 0
  • 0

Easy fix to this - tell the Chinese government to fund all of the social welfare payments to its citizens living in New Zealand and the unfunded liability will disappear.

Just watch Auckland house prices start to fall.

  • 0
  • 0

A stupid, racist comment. If the average New Zealander worked only half as hard as Chinese immigrants, permanent residents or citizens this would be a great country.

  • 0
  • 0

Hardly racist, the same agreements exist for pension funding between Australia and New Zealand, and the UK and New Zealand for example. Fairs fair, the National party cannot expect taxpaying New Zealanders to underwrite immigration rackets any longer.

  • 0
  • 0

Post New comment or question

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

NZ Market Snapshot


Sym Price Change
USD 0.7204 -0.0071 -0.98%
AUD 0.9122 -0.0043 -0.47%
EUR 0.6113 -0.0023 -0.37%
GBP 0.5364 -0.0032 -0.59%
HKD 5.6295 -0.0554 -0.97%
JPY 80.6110 -0.6990 -0.86%


Commodity Price Change Time
Gold Index 1307.1 13.250 2017-09-25T00:
Oil Brent 58.4 2.190 2017-09-25T00:
Oil Nymex 52.2 1.560 2017-09-25T00:
Silver Index 17.1 0.163 2017-09-25T00:


Symbol Open High Last %
NZX 50 7869.8 7887.2 7869.8 0.22%
NASDAQ 6403.1 6408.1 6426.9 -0.88%
DAX 12557.4 12629.9 12594.8 0.21%
DJI 22320.5 22359.9 22349.6 -0.24%
FTSE 7301.3 7303.0 7301.3 -0.00%
HKSE 27308.6 27567.9 27500.3 0.05%
NI225 20349.3 20385.5 20397.6 -0.33%
ASX 5683.7 5698.5 5683.7 -0.22%