New Zealand Welcomes Better-Than-Expected Budget Surplus with Benefits for Families

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New Zealand will welcome the newly-released budget focusing on the family. Finance Minister Bill English has delivered a budget with a bigger-than-expected forecast, tax cuts and free doctor visits to over 400,000 children under the age of 13.

English said the budget surplus would amount to $372 million which is bigger than the predicted $86 million six months ago, thanks to New Zealand's booming economy. He said the new budget was the first time in six years to focus on economic growth management rather than economic recovery.

The $1 billion allotted for new spending will mostly go to a $500 million package to benefit children and families. After Prime Minister John Key's budget speech, he said the budget was a "reflection" of the fact that the government has been working with the people to bring the budget back into surplus.

Mr Key said it was only natural that the government will focus its attention to families, especially vulnerable children. He believes many New Zealanders will want free doctor visits, free prescriptions for children under 13, paid parental leaves and other spending that will support families.

However, Labour Leader David Cunliffe said the budget may be lacking in vision, substance and direction. He said it "shortchanges New Zealanders" and does nothing to solve the housing crisis.

Cunliffe said the National Party had borrowed from Labour's strategies with policies like extension on paid parental leave which the government has not done well. He added if New Zealanders wanted the full package, the simple solution would be to "vote Labour."

The Labour leader said National had "plundered" Labour's ideas but was not worried because they have many more.

Aside from an extension on paid parental leave, the government featured a $90-million package for three years beginning 2015 for free doctors' visits and prescriptions under 13 years of age. Previously, the benefit was only available for children under 6.

According to Health Minister Tony Ryall, the plan will take effect in July 2014 for over 400,000 children and their families. The paid parental leave will be extended from 14 to 16 weeks starting April 1, 2015. It would then be increased to 18 weeks a year later.

English also announced a $480-million cut to ACC levies from 2015 which also includes motor vehicle levies. The budget indicates surpluses will be rising to $1.3 billion in 2015 and to $3.5 billion by 2016. He said the moderate increase will provide future options for the government to invest in public services and apply modest tax cuts. 

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