John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Something for everyone makes it hard to hate


Bill English's effort is a liquorice allsorts kind of Budget. There is enough variety to satisfy most tastes. That makes it a hard Budget for National's opponents to criticise.

For those on the right, there is the continuation of National's partial asset sales programme, with Meridian Energy next up for a partial float this year. There are pending cuts in ACC levies. State house tenants have been put on notice they may no longer be in their home for life. There is money to get Act's charter school experiment up and running.

For those more to the left, there are more meagre offerings designed to alleviate poverty. These range from more money for home insulation, warrants of fitness for rental properties and bulk Government purchasing of whiteware so beneficiaries do not waste money lent to them on unreliable second-hand fridges and washing machines. The latter list, however, looks to have been put together in a hurry more with the aim of heading off Labour than amounting to a serious attempt at tackling poverty.

This Budget is all about pushing as many political buttons as possible. That applies to the housing affordability package and the memorandum of understanding with the Reserve Bank to curb soaring house prices from leading to boom-bust cycles in the wider economy.

Those announcements could have been made at any time. Budgets are not what they once were. But they still provide a platform and an audience which is not to be wasted.

Just as well they were not wasted. English's Budgets are dry affairs. They put a premium on safety and caution.

Even though the country seems to have weathered the global financial crisis, English has yet to see sufficient reason to start flashing money around - at least not before election year. He remains constrained by two factors - the escalating cost to the Crown of rebuilding Christchurch, and the need to demonstrate progress towards National's target of surplus by June 2015.

The Christchurch rebuild is swallowing an ever increasing chunk of the proceeds from asset sales. Meanwhile, English had to massage the figures by cutting the allowance for new spending by $200 million to achieve a $75 million forecast surplus in 2014-15.

Despite the tweaking, the surplus forecast is now far more credible as it no longer depends on the Treasury's previously unrealistic growth assumptions. That the surplus is more credible makes this year's Budget more credible as a whole.

- 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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