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Overview

Specific fiscal risks can be positive or negative and can affect revenue or spending or assets and liabilities. The links between external events and spending are indirect because new policies that change spending and revenue usually require a decision by the Government and approval from Parliament. The approach taken in this chapter is to disclose those potential policy decisions and key areas of uncertainty that may have a material effect on the fiscal outlook.

Established practice is that the Government sets aside operating and capital allowances for future budgets to manage uncertainty and cost pressures. These allowances are included in the fiscal forecasts. Future policy decisions affecting operating expenses or capital expenditure are met either from within these allowances or through reprioritisation.

Future policy decisions are risks to the fiscal forecasts only to the extent that they cannot be managed from within:

  • for operating expenditure, existing baselines or the allowance in the fiscal forecasts for forecast new operating expenses, or
  • for capital, the existing Crown balance sheet or the allowance in the fiscal forecasts, for forecast new capital expenditure.

Notwithstanding this, known material policy risks are identified as specific fiscal risks, even though the Government has more control in managing such risks through reprioritisation, the existing Crown balance sheet and the budget allowances. This is done to ensure a prudent approach to the disclosure of risks, improve transparency and not pre-judge future decisions by governments.

The Specific Fiscal Risks are categorised by ministerial portfolio. The summary table also classifies each risk into:

  • Potential policy decisions affecting revenue: For example, changes to tax policy or ACC levies could reduce or increase government income.
  • Potential policy decisions affecting expenses (expected to be funded from reprioritisation or the budget operating allowance): Costs of policy proposals could increase or decrease expenses depending on decisions taken, and they are risks to the fiscal forecasts only to the extent that they cannot be managed within existing baselines or the budget operating allowances.
  • Potential capital decisions (expected to be funded from the existing Crown balance sheet or the budget capital allowance): Capital investment decisions are risks to the fiscal forecasts only to the extent that they cannot be managed within the existing Crown balance sheet or the budget capital allowance.

A range of generic risks to the fiscal forecasts exist but are not separately disclosed as specific fiscal risks:

  • Risks from changes to economic assumptions; the most significant economic risks have been identified in Chapter 3.
  • Business risks and volatility in the returns from and valuation of the Crown's investments relating to the broader economic and commercial environment.
  • General cost pressures, such as those associated with demographic changes (eg, an ageing population).
  • Potential risks from changes in demand for government services or transfer payments owing to underlying structural factors (such as changes in demand for Jobseeker Support).
  • The costs of future individual natural disasters, biosecurity incursions and other major events, as they usually occur infrequently and their occurrence, nature and timing cannot be predicted. Once a disaster does occur, a number of choices arise about how to respond and when potential liabilities are recognised (eg, through setting aside an allocation of funding). Specific risks are disclosed at this point based on the range of possible responses.

The final part of the chapter contains a current list of contingent liabilities and contingent assets. Contingent liabilities are costs that the Crown will have to face if a particular event occurs or are present liabilities that are unable to be measured. Typically, contingent liabilities consist of guarantees and indemnities, legal disputes and claims on uncalled capital. The largest quantified contingent liabilities are to international financial organisations and mostly relate to uncalled capital and promissory notes. Contingent assets are possible assets that have arisen from past events but the value of the asset, or whether it will eventuate, will not be confirmed until a particular event occurs.

Criteria and Rules for Inclusion in the Fiscal Forecasts or Disclosure as Specific Fiscal Risks

The Public Finance Act 1989 requires that the Statement of Specific Fiscal Risks sets out all government decisions, contingent liabilities or contractual obligations known to the Government and subject to specific requirements that may have a material effect on the economic or fiscal outlook.

The criteria and rules set out below are used to determine if government decisions or other circumstances should be incorporated into the fiscal forecasts, disclosed as specific fiscal risks or, in some circumstances, excluded from disclosure.

Criteria for Including Matters in the Fiscal Forecasts

Matters are incorporated into the fiscal forecasts provided they meet the following criteria:

  • The matter can be quantified for particular years with reasonable certainty.
  • A decision has been taken, or a decision has not yet been taken but it is reasonably probable[17] the matter will be approved, or it is reasonably probable the situation will occur.

Additionally, any other matters may be incorporated into the forecasts if the Secretary to the Treasury considers, using best professional judgement, that the matters may have a material effect on the fiscal and economic outlook and are certain enough to include in the fiscal forecasts.

Rules for the disclosure of specific fiscal risks 

Matters are disclosed as specific fiscal risks if:

  • the likely impact is more than $100 million over five years, and either
  • a decision has not yet been taken but it is reasonably possible[18] (but not probable) that the matter will be approved or the situation will occur, or
  • it is reasonably probable that the matter will be approved or the situation will occur, but the matter cannot be quantified or assigned to particular years with reasonable certainty.

Additionally, any other matters may be disclosed as specific fiscal risks if the Secretary to the Treasury considers, using best professional judgement, that the matters may have a material effect (more than $100 million over five years) on the fiscal and economic outlook but are not certain enough to include in the fiscal forecasts.

Exclusions from Disclosure

Matters are excluded from disclosure as specific fiscal risks if they fail to meet the materiality criterion (ie, are less than $100 million over five years) or if they are unlikely[19] to be approved or occur within the forecasting period.

Additionally, the Minister of Finance may determine, under section 26V of the Public Finance Act 1989, that a matter be included in the fiscal forecasts or a specific fiscal risk not be disclosed, if such disclosure would be likely to:

  • prejudice the substantial economic interests of New Zealand
  • prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or international relations of the Government
  • compromise the Crown in a material way in negotiation, litigation or commercial activity, or
  • result in a material loss of value to the Crown.

If possible, the Minister of Finance should avoid withholding the matter, either by making a decision on it before the forecasts are finalised, or by disclosing it without quantifying the risk.

Notes

  • [17]For these purposes “reasonably probable” is taken to mean that the matter is more likely than not to be approved within the forecast period (by considering, for example, whether there is a better than 50% chance of the matter occurring or being approved).
  • [18]For these purposes “reasonably possible” is taken to mean that the matter might be approved within the forecast period (by considering, for example, whether there is a 20% to 50% chance of the matter occurring or being approved).
  • [19]For these purposes “unlikely” is taken to mean that the matter will probably not be approved within the forecast period (by considering, for example, whether there is a less than 20% chance of the matter occurring or being approved).
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