Labor’s plan to track the nation’s wellbeing alongside GDP

New Zealand has introduced a “wellbeing budget” which sits alongside its traditional financial budget. This measures other elements of society, such as mental health, the environment, homelessness and suicide rates.

The NZ government of Jacinda Ardern has introduced a “wellbeing budget” to sit alongside its traditional budget, measuring non-economic factors facing the country.Credit:Getty Images

Other countries have also started trying to add non-economic measures alongside more general indicators of an economy’s performance. Dr Chalmers said a narrow measure of the economy could lead governments into making poor policy decisions.

“Traditional measures have a place, but don’t paint the whole picture. We can do more to measure what matters,” he said.

“If we do, we’ll give ourselves a better chance to make the right calls on economic policy, for the right reasons.

“Big data and all the other relevant technological advances mean we have never had a better opportunity to bolster and buttress traditional economic data with faster, more accurate, more tailored information.”

‘Resuscitate’ the intergenerational and tax expenditures reports

In his speech, the shadow treasurer also suggested overhauling the intergenerational report, which measures long-term pressures facing the budget.

The last report, released by then-treasurer Joe Hockey in 2015, came under attack for the way it included Labor policies in its costings and a string of later-abandoned government policies.

This year’s report has been pushed back several months as the government awaits the outcome of its retirement income review.

Dr Chalmers said he wants to “resuscitate” the report, suggesting it could be released in the middle of each parliamentary term with topical analysis added to each iteration.

“A permanent focus should be intergenerational disadvantage and agreed measures of economic mobility. Climate change too,” he said.

Dr Chalmers also said the annual tax expenditures report, which outlines the cost to the budget of tax concessions such as the discounted tax rate on superannuation or the exclusion of fresh food from GST, needs to be “revitalised”.

He said Australians needed to better understand tax loopholes to the budget.

Dr Chalmers signalled he is likely to retain a policy developed by former shadow treasurer Chris Bowen and current shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh for an “evaluator general” position.

Working from the Treasury department, the evaluator general would run randomised trials or high-quality evaluations of government programs to determine if they are working.


“We also need to better evaluate which policies work over time and which don’t. There’s too little of this,” he said.

A previous plan from Mr Bowen to have the Parliamentary Budget Office take over the intergenerational report is likely to be dropped.

Dr Chalmers said while none of his proposals were locked in, they would add to Labor’s broader policy agenda.

“These are some ways we could better measure what matters, know where policy is working and where it’s failing, and fix the damage done to economics by a Morrison government which doesn’t know whether it is Hanson or Hayek, neoliberal or populist, trickle-down or turn-back-the-clock,” he said.

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