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Thu 30 May 2019 12:44 PM

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Ardern's 'wellbeing' budget brings New Zealand good vibes

The New Zealand budget includes increases on mental health, indigenous welfare and child poverty

Ardern's 'wellbeing' budget brings New Zealand good vibes
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after a visit to the Kilbirnie Mosque on March 17, 2019

New Zealand unveiled its inaugural "wellbeing" budget Thursday in a move set to cement Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's reputation for compassionate leadership in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacre.

Ardern, widely praised for her respectful handling of the March shooting in which 51 Muslim worshippers were gunned down, described the budget as a world-first attempt to change the way economic progress is measured.

"We have so often heard New Zealanders calling for early intervention and investment in challenging issues to save both money and lives in the long run," she said.

"That is exactly what this budget delivers."

It is her government's second national budget, but the New Zealand leader said it was the first to be centred on the concept of "collective wellbeing", putting people before economic indicators.

While dismissed as marketing spin by critics, Ardern views it as a way to  deliver the reformist agenda she campaigned on in the 2017 election.

The budget includes increases on mental health, indigenous welfare and child poverty.

On the economic front, the budget predicts a surplus of NZ$3.5 billion in 2018-19, rising to NZ$6.1 billion by 2022-23.

It optimistically forecasts economic growth will average 2.7 percent over the same period, with inflation hovering around 2.0 percent and unemployment slightly over 4.0 percent.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan first floated the idea of prioritising happiness over growth in the early 1970s and introduced a Gross National Happiness Index in 2008.

Many other nations have adopted similar concepts but the New Zealand attempt is being touted as the first time it has been at the core of a government's spending decisions.

Opposition finance spokeswoman Amy Adams described the wellbeing move as a gimmick, calling the budget "all spin and no substance".