So much for the election-year Budget which was not going
to be an election-year Budget.
In delivering his sixth Budget, Bill English has pulled off
the Great Brain Robbery. The Labour Party's brain, that is.
The document falls well short of being the classic
election-year lolly scramble. But there are lollies - free
doctors' visits not just as now for those children aged under
six, but for those under 13; the extension of the paid
parental leave scheme; and a hike in the parental tax credit.
It is as if Bill English has been rifling through Labour's
chocolate box of policies, taking the most tasty bits of
confectionery and claiming them as his own.
Such is the policy heist, you could be excused thinking large
chunks of the Finance Minister's Budget speech had been
penned by David Parker, Labour's finance spokesman.
If ever an explanation was needed as to why Opposition
parties like to stay mum on their policies for as long as
possible, then look no further than the contents of this
English's name may be on the front cover of the Budget, but
John Key's fingerprints are all over it.
Not only have the pair picked over Labour policy with the
intention of matching its more popular elements - as much as
tight fiscal conditions allow - but the $500 million support
package for children and families addresses the one large
chink in National's otherwise hard to penetrate economic
armour -income inequality.
In that regard, Labour will slam the package as far too
little far too late.
But the Budget presents Labour with a major headache. Where
does that party go now in terms of differentiating itself
from National? The more Labour opens doors, the more it finds
National snapping at its heels.
The lolly hunt will divert attention away from English's
crowning achievement - one which will sway voters - namely,
the return of the Government's books to surplus.
He is putting his trust in a bumper crop of tax revenue
generated by solid, though not spectacular economic growth
forecasts, even though tax revenue has come in below forecast
this year. It is a reasonable punt to take. But it is not 100
per cent guaranteed he will hit the target.
This year's election will be long over by the time voters
find out whether he got it right.
- by John Armstrong, NZ Herald