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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 Budget.
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