Yesterday's Budget scratches more itches than a cat with fleas.

It is a cleverly constructed document which seeks to touch as many political bases as possible where National feels it is vulnerable and can splash some cash to rectify things.

That has left opponents gasping for oxygen. Take the $790 million child hardship package as an example. National's critics have suddenly found National invading their territory. They can only argue the package does not go far enough.

But National is not trying to win the votes of the poor. It is trying to reinforce its grip on middle New Zealand which wants something done to ease child poverty.


At the same time, National is ensuring it does not look as if it is being soft on beneficiaries by increasing the obligations on them to seek part-time work .

National is operating within tight fiscal constraints. That is because health and education always swallow up much of the overall amount of money set aside for new projects.

That has forced National to look for savings. The most visible in the Budget is the axing of the kick-start payment of $1000 for people signing up for KiwiSaver. National argues the incentive has passed its use-by date because it is failing to attract new entrants and most people who wish to join the retirement saving scheme have done so already.

More niggling is the new border clearance levy. National promised there would be no new taxes at last year's election. It is now arguing it is fairer to adopt a user-pays regime.

Despite all the juggling, English is looking at a forecast surplus next year of less than $180 million. This could evaporate in an instant.

Somehow he has to convince people that tax cuts, which have been upgraded as a fiscal priority, are credible in 2017, which just happens to be election year.

National's opponents will see the Budget as an exercise in cynicism.

This applies in particular to the warm fuzzies that National is seeking to generate in setting aside $11.2 million "to arrest serious ongoing decline in the number of kiwi left in the wild".


Not surprisingly, this announcement made no mention of the constant cuts in funding and staff of the Conservation Department.

The kiwi may be as much at threat from a two-legged creature which stalks the pavements going in and out of No1 The Terrace - the Wellington home of the Treasury - as it is from stoats, ferrets and for that matter cats, flea-afflicted or not.