Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: A fool and his money are soon parted

Finance Minister Bill English finds not all ministers are singing from the same song book when it comes to plans for the Government's surplus. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Finance Minister Bill English finds not all ministers are singing from the same song book when it comes to plans for the Government's surplus. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

In Shakespeare's King Lear, the Fool's advice for those who had money was to "have more than thou showest".

Alas for Finance Minister Bill English, the Public Finance Act precludes him following the Fool's advice.

That requires him to open his books for public inspection on a regular basis.

The folly of this became apparent very soon after the opening of the Government books revealed a $1.8 billion surplus for the year past.

At the time, English said life had been easier in Deficit Lane because he could simply say "no" to every beggar who came knocking.

Since then the begging cups have been out for everything from prisons to boxing matches. Transport Minister Simon Bridges wants electric cars, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce wants to join the space race, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry wants to hunt down every rat in town.

Each begging cup will have flow on effects. For example, English has to fund more prisons because of the growing number of prisoners.

On top of that, National is expected to announce extra police. More police equals more arrests, which equals even more prisoners. It's a vicious cycle.

Then came the news New Zealand could host its first ever WBO world title fight.

There was a request from Duco Event's Dean Lonergan for a bit of taxpayer funding to help make up the funding needed for that in sponsorship.

Fans of boxing will support it. Then there are those who will believe it is unnecessary.

It hardly meets the criteria oft-used by the Government's critics, who have adopted a child poverty measure for any spending deemed unworthy.

But political parties are in the process of putting together their Tinder profiles for their hot date with the voters in 2017.

Things such as the Parker fight affords the Government the chance to show its fun-loving side.

Since at least the days of the Roman Empire, rulers have taken it upon themselves to provide entertainment for the masses.

There was the Roman Circus Maximus - the venue for such extravaganzas as a showdown between a group of gladiators and 20 elephants.

The fate of gladiators was often determined by an Emperor's fickle thumb.

Democracy and an aversion to capital punishment rather spoiled such forms of entertainment but the Government's Major Events Fund is designed to provide a watered down version of such frivolities - such as the Rugby World Cup and America's Cup.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has spelled out the circumstances in which the Government will come to Duco's party - it must be an event which would not be held in New Zealand unless the Government fronted up with the moolah.

In truth, the only criteria it has to meet is public support.

The previous Labour Government supported the Government putting money into the America's Cup. At the time, the National Opposition were not fans.

They became avid fans a bit later on when they were in Government - not least because now it was them rather than Labour who would enjoy the photo ops on offer.

But the America's Cup was held over a long period.

A boxing match can be over in the space of one big punch and it costs $50 a pop to watch it on Sky - hardly a price at which the masses can enjoy it.

English, meanwhile, may also be bracing himself for a further attempt to raid the kitty - for the Prime Minister's own plane after the air force travel woes that beset his trip to India.

The Opposition would be delighted if that was the case. They are even tacitly egging him on. Labour's David Shearer has questioned whether the Prime Minister should have to rely on the Defence Force and NZ First's Ron Mark has even suggested Key should invest in an Airbus 320 instead of relying on the air force 757s.

It might make practical sense. Many leaders of other countries have their own dedicated air transport.

But given Key is now in his third term and seeking a fourth, spending up large on his very own jet would mean King Lear's was not the only fool.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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