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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Budget 2014 - The Great Brain Robbery

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Finance Minister Bill English checking copies of his 2014 Budget as they roll off the press earlier this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Finance Minister Bill English checking copies of his 2014 Budget as they roll off the press earlier this week. Photo / Mark Mitchell

So much for the election-year Budget which was not going to be an election-year Budget.

In delivering his sixth Budget, Bill English has pulled off the Great Brain Robbery. The Labour Party's brain, that is.

Herald economics editor Brian Fallow's Budget 2014 analysis:

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The document falls well short of being the classic election-year lolly scramble. But there are lollies - free doctors' visits not just as now for those children under six, but for those under 13; the extension of the paid parental leave scheme; and a hike in the parental tax credit.

It is as if Bill English has been rifling through Labour's chocolate box of policies, taking the most tasty bits of confectionery and claiming them as his own.

Such is the policy heist, you could be excused thinking large chunks of the Finance Minister's Budget speech had been penned by David Parker, Labour's finance spokesman.

If ever an explanation was needed as to why Opposition parties like to stay mum on their policies for as long as possible then look no further than the contents of this Budget.

English' s name may be on the front cover of the Budget, but John Key's fingerprints are all over it.

Read more:
Budget 2014: 10 things you need to know
Graphic: Where the Budget money goes
Bigger surplus unveiled, doctor visits for kids
Comment: The Great Brain Robbery

Not only have the pair picked over Labour policy with the intention of matching its more popular elements - as much as tight fiscal conditions allow.

The $500 million support package for children and families addresses the one large chink in National's otherwise hard to penetrate economic armour - income inequality.

In that regard, Labour will slam the package as far too little far too late.

But the Budget presents Labour with a major headache. Where does that party go now in terms of differentiating itself from National? The more Labour opens doors, the more it finds National snapping at its heels.

Bill English - return to surplus:

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The lolly hunt will divert attention away from English's crowning achievement - one which will sway voters - namely, the return of the Government's books to surplus.

He is putting his trust in a bumper crop of tax revenue generated by solid, though not spectacular economic growth forecasts, even though tax revenue has come in below forecast this year. It is a reasonable punt to take. But it is not 100 per cent guaranteed he will hit the target.

This year's election will be long over by the time voters find out whether he got it right.

Read more:
Housing affordability measures
Auckland transport projects get boost
$500m to extend paid parental leave
R & D tax break for startups
Police budget frozen
Beneficiaries left out
$25m to fight kauri dieback
Fees slashed for targeted tertiary courses

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

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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