"Budgets are not just an accounting exercise," said Bill English, as he delivered the accounting exercise known as a surplus.

Tick. The magic word. His surplus will be paraded as success, no doubt.

But if his Budget's any indication, the Government acted strongly to combat the number-one problem facing New Zealand: cigarette smoking.

Well, he's certainly got his finger on that pulse.


Not house prices. Not homelessness. Not the bugs-in-amber gridlock that Auckland calls roading. Nope. Tobacco tax is obviously what everyone's concerned about. It's this relationship with reality that made me want to have what he's having.

Is our entire economy based on real estate agents' commissions?

It took a petition, on the eve of the Budget, to slap basic common sense into the Government's head. It took activist public rage for the Government to notice that it's padded-cell-bonkers to put beneficiaries into motels (at rates that depressing, concrete-block motels can't even charge on booking sites) and make it an asset on the state balance sheet, by calling it a debt owed to Winz by the beneficiary.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley couldn't even say how much emergency housing was costing. This is like a fire station not knowing how often they get rung up. How do you know if your systems are flawed, if you don't keep track of failure signals, like emergency demand for housing? Then again, failure signals don't score good marks on the accounting exercise.

The need for emergency housing, surely, is a genuine measure of New Zealand's economic management, with more weight than the accounting abstraction of a surplus.

John Key got his vocal chords and veins inflated to "get some guts" levels, when he said councils should release land for residential use.

Which was a nice thought. We'd probably have preferred that he quietly did something about it though. Instead, we got a soundbite. House price inflation is not his fault. It's probably Michael Joseph Savage's fault. If state houses hadn't been so well constructed, they wouldn't be worth so much now.

Maybe the way to free up some housing is to start giving free cigarettes to superannuitants.

@RaybonKan www.raybonkan.com