The first Budget I remember listening to (yes, listening on the radio in the evening because – as Poneke reminded me – that was how you first received the news and when Budgets were delivered) was in 1975, my first year at university.
I was hoping for increased help for students. That we already got our fees paid; a living away from home allowance if our course necessitated moving from home to study; A or B Bursaries of $150 and $100 respectively (when weekly rents were about $7); anyone who had a vague notion that they might one day entertain the possible thought of teaching applied for and almost always received a studentship; and that people on pretty modest incomes were paying 60% taxes in part to fund all this largesse, was irrelevant.
I’ve forgotten what, if anything students received which supports the contention that we don’t appreciate what Government’s give us; and I don’t recall anything about subsequent Budgets until Roger Douglas’s first in 1984. That was the one was brought farmers kicking and screaming in to the real world by removing subsidies.
The sudden removal would have been difficult enough but the impact was worsened by raging inflation, high interest rates, a relatively high dollar and low commodity prices. While we had to face the real world, the labour market was still strictly regulated and there were tariffs on imports so while our incomes went down costs did not. The damage was compounded in North Otago where we were also facing another of the recurring droughts which dogged the district.
The economic and social deterioration of the ag-sag compounded as inflation and interest rates climbed, buoyed mostly by city property prices and the share market. Meanwhile farm prices plummeted and many of us found we’d gone from having reasonable equity to theoretical bankruptcy as our debts became greater than the value of what we owned.
Perhaps we were fortunate there was safety in numbers. Stock and station firms and banks to whom we owed so much knew that if they pushed a few they might start a landslide which would only aggravate the situation. By the end of 1987 the share market crash meant it was no longer just farmers and rural communities which were in financial disarray.
It took years to recover but the changes Douglas, and subsequently Ruth Richardson, made helped contribute to that recovery. So while we didn’t like Douglas’s medicine at the time and could argue about the method and timing of its delivery, few would disagree that farming and New Zealand are economically healthier because of it.