Paula Oliver: Government can tickle various areas for election promises

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There is not much money left to spend, but there are hints in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update of where Labour might be looking to make its election promises.

Buried away in the document are what the Treasury labels "risks" - things that could have a positive or negative future impact on the accounts.

In the area of education, the risks reveal the Government is considering further initiatives in its Schools Plus programme which could cost up to $100 million. This is on top of the estimated $134 million to $240 million cost of keeping all students participating until age 18 in some form of education and training.

Paid-parental leave is another policy area where change is being considered, to eligibility criteria and the length of time people get payments.

Labour is also looking at options to provide financial assistance to households to buy an affordable new home - potentially a hint that the party's expected new housing policy in the campaign will focus on this.

There are a number of vague mentions in the risks also of new justice-related measures, including something new to address the precursors of crime and to reduce re-offending.

Whatever Labour chooses to offer voters, however, it will have to either be cautious about the size of the pledge or pull back on spending in another area to compensate. The latter is a possibility, after Finance Minister Michael Cullen yesterday cast doubt on the viability of spending on foreign affairs announced in May's Budget.

That funding measured about $600 million over the next five years and was a win for Winston Peters - who is no longer Foreign Affairs Minister, so it is possible Labour now feels more comfortable talking about cutting it.

Much of the spending allowance in May's Budget for the 2008-09 financial year has already been allocated to health, innovation, defence and foreign affairs. Just $496 million is left to spend and only $614 million in the 2011, 2012, and 2013 fiscal years.

- NZ Herald

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