Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Iti's 2 year jail sentence outscores bland Budget

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Protests erupted during John Key's post-Budget address. Photo / Getty Images
Protests erupted during John Key's post-Budget address. Photo / Getty Images

By cleverly calling it the "zero" Budget, Finance Minister Bill English wanted quiet yawning acceptance from us. He succeeded.

He got great back-up on Friday morning television from Prime Minister John Key, whose smooth delivery about the Government being prudent and careful with the nation's accounts in these unpredictable times - just like "mums and dads" are doing with their household budgets - was masterful. You could almost see the heads nodding sagely in the nation's kitchens.

Labour's David Shearer saying the Budget didn't address challenges we face, such as support for exporters, would have gone over the heads of most viewers and his demand that Key should support raising the retirement age wouldn't endear him to even his own supporters.

Other party leaders were left sidelined, muttering that it hurt poor New Zealanders and had no job growth plan.

The criticisms are all true. This is a Budget where public services will be cut, the poor will continue to be marginalised and our assets sold - and it's all propped up by pretending our economy will grow by 3 per cent when this year it's barely 1 per cent and we've never had anywhere like 3 per cent in any year since Key has been Prime Minister.

But I suspect that in a couple of months we'll remember only two things about this Budget.

The tobacco industry's customers hooked on nicotine will soon be paying $20 a day for their drug addiction, and school kids who work get their tax break closed down. Key must think we need to clobber our kids at an earlier age so they get used to the idea that life isn't fair. It's another hint to our kids to export themselves to Australia as soon as they can.

Given the build-up to Thursday's Budget, we knew it was going to be a nothing document. So I was more interested to see what sentence Tame Iti and his three co-defendants were going to cop. That was partly because I wrote in this column a fortnight ago that Iti was going to jail and I wanted to see if my pessimism would be vindicated.

I was in Wellington at a Council of Trade Unions national meeting all day on Thursday monitoring news for the Urewera trial result and the Budget on my fancy phone. A colleague asked me what the Urewera four would get. I thought about two years for Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiri Kemara and probably home detention for the two Parihaka peace activists.

The full-face moku of the Tuhoe activists had made it easy for the Crown and media to frame them as scary villains. Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, on the other hand, seemed like a gentle loving couple who wouldn't hurt a fly, so imprisonment for them was never going to happen.

When the sentences, as predicted, were announced, relief and champagne would have broken out in many plush offices in Auckland and Wellington. The state got what they desperately needed. The Parihaka couple have a young child and their home detention will be a blessing.

Iti and Kemara have their martyrdom.

The judicial and legal fraternity will get their huge invoices paid after congratulating themselves that justice has been served, and the cops are proudly reporting they've saved us from terrorism and we can now sleep safely.

On Thursday, we were sold a Budget that maintains and strengthens the status quo.

In 2010 the richest 150 New Zealanders grew their wealth by 20 per cent while the average wage moved by less than 2 per cent. We now have a society where the wealthiest 1 per cent own more than three times the combined cash and assets of the poorest 50 per cent.

And this Government's Budget solution to increase wealth or jobs for everyone? Nothing. Oddly enough, economic development got an 8 per cent cut.

If they can make Tame Iti look like bin Laden, they can make anyone who fights back a suspect. That may be why in this zero Budget they did find enough to increase the funding for the courts, corrections and cops.

I wonder why?

- Herald on Sunday

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