If this was a lolly scramble Budget it was a pretty healthy one - a few nuts, some dried apricot and yoghurt raisins.

It maintained the "no surprises, steady as she goes" strategy that we've seen for the past eight years even as it delivered a few wholesome treats and rewards to the electorate.

The risk, of course, is that this kind of centrist approach will get little love from either side of the political spectrum.

But Prime Minister Bill English and Finance Minister Steven Joyce aren't the kind of parents to risk over exciting the kids with a mad sugar rush. They promised nothing radical and they delivered it.


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Economy: NZ growth seen peaking at 3.8pc in 2019
Defence: NZDF gets $1 billion for new ship, technology
Housing: Crown land for house-build to cost $100 million
Education: School funding freeze over
Health: Mental health, disability support boost
Transport: Govt starts paying for Auckland's rail link
Law and order: Millions to be spent to try cut burglary, youth offending
Infrastructure: Transport drives $32.5b spend
Science: Govt ups spending on innovation
Insurance premiums to rise by $69 for homeowners

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This was always going to be a Budget that focused on social investment and giving a bit back to workers.

Critics will talk about election-year bribes but the narrative from National will be that we did the hard yards, we've built a surplus and now we get to invest back into the economy.

Business was braced for that and won't be too disappointed, despite the inevitable grumbles about a lack of vision on tax reform, R&D and infrastructure spending.

The tweaks to the bottom two personal tax brackets and boost to Working for Families may deliver a small consumer-led boost to the economy.

But business leaders looking for transformative reform on corporate tax will have to keep waiting.

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope had argued for moves to cut company tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent - keeping us below Australia, which is about to drop the rate to 25 per cent.

He knew he wasn't going to get it.


Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell wanted to see a bold approach to infrastructure spending.

The Government has upped its commitment by $11 billion over the next four years.
But the $4b allocated for the year ahead held few surprises. There were certainly no sexy new projects to buy off Auckland voters.

There was the Government's contribution to the City Rail Link, money for Kaikoura quake repairs and significant investments in land for new housing, schools and hospitals.
I've no doubt the surprise $450 million for KiwiRail rolling stock was needed but it's hardly a popular vote grabber.

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Surpluses are notoriously difficult to distribute.

New Zealanders are a stoic bunch often prepared to live with miserly budgets when we understand times are tough.


But, as Helen Clark and Michael Cullen found in 2008, when you start sharing out the rewards the electorate is seldom grateful.

Joyce and English won't have too much trouble selling their vision of stable growth and solid management to business audiences at breakfasts and lunches around the country in the next few weeks.

The bigger risk for them is that ordinary working New Zealanders, the people they've tried to target here, don't buy it.

As a visionary statement for the future of New Zealand this Budget is a tough sell. It's not bold and radical, it's subtle and sensible.

As a backstop the Government has retained the strong focus on the crown accounts that has served it well so far.

It remains committed to a stable economic platform that is making the country a good place to do business. That strategy is expected to deliver ever-increasing surpluses, as much as $7.2b by 2021.


In that sense it's a case of: trust us for another term and the lolly scrambles will get better.

Perhaps we'll eventually see a few Minties and Fruit Bursts coming our way.

Despite accusations that they are becoming Labour-lite, National under English and Joyce remains grounded in a center-right ideology that believes it is business not Government that drives growth.

In other words, if you like those little Crunchie bars in your lolly scramble, you're going to have to buy them yourself.