Claire Trevett on politics
Claire Trevett is a Herald political writer

Claire Trevett: Bill English plays the tax cut coquette

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Finance Minister Bill English is congratulated by Prime Minister John Key after Budget 2015. PHOTO/ Mark Mitchell
Finance Minister Bill English is congratulated by Prime Minister John Key after Budget 2015. PHOTO/ Mark Mitchell

Finance Minister Bill English has a rather dour public persona but the release of the annual Crown accounts usually also delivers English's annual joke.

In 2015 - when English recorded his first ever surplus - he joked the $414 million was so small it was visible only "if you look carefully and hold your glasses a bit further out from your face".

This time round it was a riff on the same theme - the healthier figure of $1.8 billion was so big even the more elderly, visually challenged members of the media could see it. He even named one unwitting soul.

That surplus also signalled National might go ahead with a further round of tax cuts.

That is more likely to be as part of its 2017 campaign promises rather than in the 2017 Budget.

Key and English have already started putting on the required theatre in which Key plays generous benefactor to the hard workers of New Zealand, while English plays the responsible Scrooge.

The moves are as staged as those in professional wrestling exhibitions.

We all know the victor in the faux fight will be John Key. We know that because we know, Key knows and English knows tax cuts are an obvious but more effective sweetener for voters than promises about debt to GDP ratios.

Nonetheless, English put on a good show of being the reluctant bride coming to the altar of tax cuts yesterday, emphasising the many other priorities he had - from paying down debt to starting contributions to the Super Fund.

He even pretended he was hankering for the days of deficits again: "In some ways it's easier to have deficits because you just say 'no' we can't do it."

It was not until the end of his press conference than English's real joke landed.

He insisted any decisions National made about tax cuts would be based on economic rather than political reasons because the public would see right through any blatant politics in election year.

He added that National would leave it to the Opposition to engage in such shenanigans.

He even managed to keep a straight face.

- NZ Herald

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