John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Reasoned budget debate as scarce as hens' teeth

Russel Norman. Photo / Supplied
Russel Norman. Photo / Supplied

While Treasury economists were yesterday no doubt emptying local supermarket freezers of chickens in order to find at least one bird whose entrails match their inevitably over-optimistic growth forecasts in tomorrow's Budget, across the road at Parliament things too were going from the sublime to the re-chook-ulous, so to speak.

One moment Russel Norman was engaged in a Philosophy 101-like dissertation on the Prime Minister's mind. The next, the Greens' co-leader was exclaiming "chicken, chicken" at John Key in a rising falsetto which had him on the verge of breaking into a prolonged bout of clucking.

It was most un-Norman-like. He immediately ran fowl of Speaker Lockwood Smith. Punishment was swift in coming. And it was not poultry. Smith withdrew Norman's right to ask his allotted question.

Norman's beef (to mix the metaphor) was that his question had been directed to Key to answer. National, however, had switched it to Finance Minister Bill English to reply. Under Parliament's arcane rules, governing parties can do that.

But then it was a day when parliamentary procedure was found to be somewhat less than finger-lickin' satisfactory.

The trouble with Budget week is that for most of it there is no Budget.

It is not until Thursday afternoon that the Minister of Finance gets to his feet to deliver the Budget speech. There is time for each party leader to reply. Then - unless there is legislation which has to be passed into law to enact things like tobacco price rises - everyone goes home for the weekend.

This year, however, Budget offerings are likely to be so sparse that Opposition parties have not even really tried to pin English down on the contents, preferring ahead of the big day to frame in advance what the resulting argument should be about in their view - that English's management of the economy has been an abject failure.

Norman was out to ping Key on asset sales. Several minutes were devoted to his trying to convince the Speaker that his question should be put to Key simply because English could not know what was in his mind.

At least tomorrow, everyone in the parliamentary hen-house will have something real to peck on, rather than just punching at air.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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