COMMENT BY AUDREY YOUNG
The headline forecast in the latest set of Government accounts of a mere $1.7 billion surplus in the current year should be very helpful to Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
It should put a sock in some of those people who hassle Robertson week in and week out to breach his Budget Responsibility Rules to borrow a lot more to every deserving cause in the first year of the new Government.
The last financial year ended in an unexpectedly high surplus of $5.5b, it was revealed in October, although some of that was explained by timing issues.
The headline surplus at the time may have emboldened groups such as teachers to hang out for more than the already generous offer the Government has put on the table, $1.2 billion over four years ($700 million for primary and $500 million for secondary).
The $1.7b surplus, albeit also down to timing issues, vindicates Robertson's steadfast adherence to his own rules in order to protect the economy from a possible global shock. And $1.7b a very small number in the scheme of things.
While the combined surplus figure over a couple of years evens out to a slightly higher surplus overall than was forecast in the May Budget, it is a reminder of how vulnerable the economy is.
The timing is exquisite. The chaos in the coming three months surrounding the exit of Britain from the European Union is likely to continue despite Theresa May surviving a no-confidence vote today. A no-deal could have ripple effects around the world.
The trade troubles between the United States and China could well be at its starting point rather than nearing its end point and the effects could be more like a wave than a ripple.
Robertson has maintained his credibility with this set of books, and that is important for someone with only one year under his belt. He vowed again today to stick to the goal of keeping net debt no higher that 20 per cent of gdp within five years of taking office - which has already been achieved.
But he said he would also review the rule should he be part of the Government after 2020 - and of course he would review it if there were a global shock.
Robertson illustrated his penchant for fiscal rectitude by sticking with his $2.4b allowance for new operating spending each year for the next four Budgets and $13b over four years on new capital expenditure.
That is the same as he set in the May Budget.
The books help Robertson because while they should temper some of the unrealistic claims made upon the public purse, the books also show rising surpluses ahead and more choices.