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NZ at wellbeing policy forefront

Opinion Piece

A major conference in Wellington last week that may have slipped under the radar has praised New Zealand for its commitment to including wellbeing in public policy.

Few New Zealanders would have been aware of the third international conference on wellbeing and public policy that was co-hosted by Victoria University of Wellington, but it attracted more than 300 delegates from around the world to discuss 120 papers — which keynote speakers said made it the biggest such event they had attended.

Three Ministers made the opening addresses, including Finance Minister Grant Robertson and his associate ministers David Clark and James Shaw.

The presence of three such big hitters, not to mention a significant number of other officials, showed the importance that the coalition Government places on this issue.

Wellbeing is at the heart of the Treasury’s living standards framework, which expands traditional economic indicators such as gross domestic product to include additional ongoing evaluation of natural, social and human capital as well as financial and physical capital.

To many that will seem on the face of it to be a woolly concept but it will be fed into Budget 2019, which is being called the wellbeing budget.

Dealing with a subject that is so broad and diverse is going to be a challenge for Treasury, who have traditionally been regarded as the bean counters of the public service presenting an annual picture of where the country’s, and the government’s, finances stand.

New Zealand gained praise from speakers at the conference who said this country had the potential to be a guiding light for others wanting to incorporate wellbeing into public policy.

In a week that attention was focused on the first report from the tax working group and the possibility of a capital gains tax, not to mention other events like the first sacking of a Cabinet Minister, it is understandable that this conference was a bit of a backgrounder.

But the subject is only going to grow in importance and the crunch will come with next year’s Budget.