John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: A most forgettable (and dull) Budget

Minister of Finance, Bill English. File photo / David White.
Minister of Finance, Bill English. File photo / David White.

For quite a few years it has been the common plaint of the average punter that there is "not much in the Budget."

For once, the average punter is right. Unless you are a smoker. In which case either give up pronto or start talking to your bank manager about an overdraft to fund your habit.

Bill English's fourth Budget is probably his most forgettable.

It is certainly his dullest. Try as one might, it is hard to get excited about changing livestock valuation rules to prevent farmers getting an unintended tax break.

The Finance Minister will not be unhappy with such assessments.

He promised boring. We got boring. Perhaps for the first time, the string of pre-Budget announcements - usually restricted to less attention-grabbing areas of Government activity - may have eclipsed what was unveiled on the big day.

It is, however, a responsible Budget - and thus a Budget for very uncertain times.

Some might say too responsible. To reach the Holy Grail of Budget surplus by the end of the 2014-15 year, English has had to rein in Government spending to such an extent that it risks contracting the economy just when it poised to grow.

English's chances of hitting the target still hinge on Treasury forecasts - a wing and a prayer, in other words. And a strong tail wind to boot.

The target has become all-consuming. Its value now resides in it being a disciplining factor on the Government - and one which has a high degree of public support.

But a fiscal surplus is not a growth strategy.

While the Budget does allocate more money to science and innovation, the restraint on spending has meant the Government is unable to make the kind of quantum leap in industry assistance that would have justified the amalgamation of several Government departments into the new "super" economic development ministry.

And it looks like there will not be much cash next year either. Or the year after. And that leaves National vulnerable.

- NZ Herald

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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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