Key Points:

In its third term this Labour-led Government will surely be remembered for style over substance or, to put it more bluntly, bullshit over benefit.

The latest and most outstanding example is the vaunted SuperGold card for us over-65s, two years in gestation after Winston Peters made it a condition of his co-operation with Labour to form a Government after the last election.

Despite all the promises and publicity, it is not worth the plastic it is printed on.

It is less than a joke; what it offers is so pathetic as to be contemptible.

Where are the discounts on things essential to the elderly on strictly limited incomes? Like public transport, air fares, petrol and diesel, doctors' visits, rates, electricity and gas, telephones, spectacles, false teeth, hearing aids and so on?

How come there are no discounts for services provided at a price by the Government itself? Why is it that businesses have to carry the cost?

Because, as usual, the Government wants someone else to pay for what has transpired to be nothing more than a cheap political publicity stunt.

The same - and far more importantly - applies to the Government's multimillion-dollar advertising campaign against child abuse. The Government gets to make itself look deeply concerned and on the ball while the agencies which will have to respond to any results from the campaign are given not a cracker more to pay their costs.

So the Government gets all the electoral benefits its advertising campaign might engender while those at the sharp end of the child abuse scourge get more work and no more pay.

Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro wants the state to intervene in every household in which there are young children, yet thanks to this Government's parsimony, Plunket - which once provided nearly every mother with advice and support - is starved for funds. In Rotorua, for instance, where Plunket provides services to 1200 families, a shortage of funds and of volunteers has put the organisation in crisis. The Government pays Plunket nurses' wages, but the local branch has to raise about $30,000 a year to pay other supervisory staff and buy child car seats.

I suspect that most branches of this historically successful organisation are in the same boat, yet Plunket, if properly funded, could do more to prevent child abuse in the home than any number of Government agencies, would certainly cost less, and give better value for money.

Also struggling are some of the childcare centres that fell for the Government's 20-hours-a-week-free childcare rort. After all the backslapping publicity, many childcare centres refused to sign up to the scheme, and those that did are left out of pocket.

In preschool, primary and secondary education a similar situation applies. While the Government trumpets its increased funding for schools, "free" education has long been a myth. Throughout the country, schools seeking to provide a well-rounded education for their pupils are having to hit up parents more and more to provide the shortfall.

To use Rotorua as an example again: the district's 56 schools raised more than $2.5 million last year to supplement Government funding; parents forked out $3.6 million of their after-tax income in "optional" fees; and another $290,000 was received in donations. According to one secondary school principal, the Government's contribution covered barely 75 per cent of his school's financial needs for the year.

Then there's the leaky homes business. The Government was quick to jump up and down when it was first made public, and to dismantle and reorganise its building oversight agencies. But when it comes to compensating the unfortunates who live in leaky homes, the Government leaves it to local authorities to foot a large part of the bill. The Auckland City Council faces a bill of $200 million to $350 million, every cent of which will be claimed from ratepayers, who pay their rates from their after-tax income.

Yet it was the Government's loosening of standards that caused this crisis in the first place. It is therefore the Government's responsibility to stump up with some cash. Fat chance.

And what about the thoroughly deserved pay rise for nurses and midwives, estimated to cost $330 million? District Health Boards are wondering where they will find the money, yet the Government remains ominously silent.

And it looks like getting worse for the taxpayer. While the Government gets the kudos for finally doing something about so-called global warming, we are the ones who will pay for it. No wonder arch-socialist Michael Cullen hoists massive surpluses every year.

* garth.george@hotmail.com