The Treasury

Transparency in action: Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update 2017

Minister of Finance Steven Joyce at PREFU 23 Aug 2017

Minister of Finance Steven Joyce at PREFU 23 Aug 2017

David Dunsheath

TINZ Board Member

Delegated authority for Parliamentary Relations and Co-Editor Newsletter

When the National Party came into power in the 1990 election, it was confronted with a much worse fiscal and economic position than the out-going Government had disclosed. The forecast budget surplus was quickly revised to a large budget deficit. In response, the new Government announced significant cuts to social welfare benefits, and reversed a major election promise.

That Government then introduced the Fiscal Responsibility Act described at, now part of the Public Finance Act 1989. It ensures that no future New Zealand government will be faced with the fiscal shock that it had experienced in that election. The Act requires The Treasury, prior to every election, to independently open the Government’s books to what it observes in the current economic and fiscal climate, and the risks that may be faced over future years. Hence the term Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU). The Treasury’s advice is aimed to be ‘New Zealander centric’ using Treasury’s Living Standards Framework to recognize the different aspects of New Zealanders’ living standards and well-being, refer to

TINZ attended the 2017 PREFU hosted by The Treasury on 23 August. The two-hour lock-down (communications prohibited) event was attended by representatives of interested political, news and other organisations. This preceded the public release of PREFU information at noon that day.

The Treasury Secretary, Gabriel Makhiouf provided a short overview of Treasury’s findings before copies of its printed PREFU documentation were distributed to attendees. An hour later the Minister of Finance, Hon Steven Joyce arrived to provide his observations about budget trends followed by Q&A covering a wide range of topics. These included the 4-year forecasted surplus complete with international and national factors that may influence its trend.

Overall the 2017 PREFU provided good clarity on Treasury’s detailed data projections and the Minister’s views on implications for the next government’s policies.

Interestingly, despite the centrality of the information to political party election policy during the election campaign:

  • there were plenty of unfilled seats on the day (following a pre-registration process in case of unrealised high demand), 
  • the concluding Q&A session dried-up after 30 minutes - some 15 minutes before the end of allocated time - which implied that attendees were satisfied with information received, 
  • whereas the public is largely reliant on the news media for its PREFU information, it is able to go online directly to view the comprehensive Treasury information, including specifically designed graphics and tables to communicate to the wider public,
  • even these tables though, require an educated eye to fully interpret its detail, highlighting that responsibilities of fiscal transparency need also to take into account the best ways of engaging the wider public.
Minister of Finance Steven Joyce at PREFU 23 Aug 2017


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