David Shearer's limited announcements on economic policy have carefully been aimed to boost Labour's image as a fiscally responsible government-in-waiting. This clearly constrains them as they attack the Government's Budget tomorrow. The problem may be that the world has moved on and 'fiscal responsibility' is becoming synonymous with 'austerity' - policies that are becoming economically and politically less fashionable by the day.

There is clearly a majority of voters who think the Government has got it wrong or are unsure about the current economic approach according to Vernon Small and Tracy Watkins (see: Support for economic direction wavering). This would suggest there is fertile ground for a credible economic alternative, and there is no doubt Labour has plenty of ammunition with which to attack the Government. But they also need to provide a strong point of difference in order to be seen as a real alternative government.

The blogosphere has some good Budget-related commentary today, questioning Labour's approach of trying to be all things to all people.

Labour has capitulated to National's obsession with a return to surplus in 2014/15 according to Danyl Mclauchlan. He argues that there is a strong case for much greater short-term government spending to create a genuine growth-based strategy - see: A question from a non-economist.


Similarly, Labour Party activist Scott Yorke criticizes Labour for not tackling poverty and inequality head on. He says 'Labour can't push too hard the line that government debt is not the problem, while at the same time promising not to undertake major new spending until the government's books are back in surplus. If austerity is such a doomed experiment, then why not repudiate it altogether?' - see: A Solid Speech, But Is The Focus Right?. Yorke also looks at how austerity measures may look quite different depending where you are on the economic food chain in Take Your Medicine.

Labour's Finance Spokesperson David Parker has a difficult job according to Audrey Young, trying to promote Labour as a party of growth while trying to 'rid Labour of the borrow-and-spend baggage that plagued it at the last election.' She says Parker has committed that 'until the country got back to surplus - it has the same 2014-15 target as National - Labour would pay for any new spending or tax cuts out of existing budget provisions, new revenue or by reprioritising' - see: Parker chooses 'low-growth' attack. Sounds very much like a zero-budget policy Bill English would approve of.

The orthodoxy of fiscal conservatism is even accepted by some on Labour's left. Jordan Carter claims Labour's record in government speaks for itself, and that Labour's policies for growth offer a real alternative irrespective of National and Labour's consensus - see: Fiscal responsibility. David Farrar points out some flaws with Carter's analysis in The debt blame game. Blogger and ex-United Future candidate Pete George also disagrees with Carter in a sarcastic post that concludes that Labour's growth policies are actually empty platitudes - see: Labour's alternative economy.

With Winston Peters and the Greens being very vocal, Labour also has a fight to maintain its traditional position as the Government's main opposition. Russel Norman, in particular, has been working hard to enhance the Green's mainstream economic credentials, even being able to scold Bill English for not understanding his own budget (see Felix Marwick's Questions over English's grasp on portfolio) and, more impressively, commissioning research from BERL which undermines the economics of the asset sales programme - see Gordon Campbell on the run-up to Budget Day. Norman did, however, uncharacteristically lose his cool in the House yesterday - see John Armstrong's Reasoned budget debate as scarce as hens' teeth.

A 'zero budget' doesn't actually mean 'zero new spending', points out John Hartevelt, particularly as welfare and pension costs are set to increase irrespective of the Government's plans - see: 'Zero' Budget accounts for nought.

There is also plenty of discussion about poverty and inequality in the lead-up to the Budget. One innovative approach to low-wages is coming from a coalition of 'unions, churches, Pacific, women's and community groups' - see Simon Collins' Campaign launched for 'living wage'. Colin James comments that these initiatives often do result in real, long-term change in his column, Forums way to generate consensus, lasting policy. Campbell Live has also been looking at the struggles for low and middle-income families in Mr and Mrs Middle New Zealand: Median NZ household income falls, A week on the average wage, and Barely surviving on minimum wage.

Shane Jones has announced an apparently compelling explanation for why he went against the advice of government officials and approved the citizenship request of William Yan - see Duncan Garner's MP told immigrant would be 'jailed and executed' and Garner's full interview with Jones. But is the explanation enough to answers all the questions around the case? Unsurprisingly, David Farrar isn't convinced by Jones' 'humanitarian' explanation and has come up with a list of ten questions for Labour and Jones - see his must-read blog post, Some questions. The five most important questions are:

1. Who was this official who told him this? It wasn't by some chance Daniel Phillips was it, the brother of Shane Te Pou - the Labour fundraiser who got paid $5,000 to help get Liu citizenship

2. Does having citizenship in any way impact whether or not one can be extradited to China over the fraud charges laid against him?

3. If one truly believes you face execution and persecution in your home country, don't you apply for asylum not citizenship?

4. But if one applied for asylum, wouldn't that actually require some substantiation of the claims that he was Falun Gong and fearing for his life, with adjudication by an independent tribunal, rather than Ministerial discretion as with citizenship?

5. Has Jones or Liu or anyone at all ever produced a shred of evidence that he actually faced anything in China except a fraud trial?

See also Farrar's blog post, Jones admits he was not sure of Liu true identity, which provides further information and arguments against Shane Jones' position.

From the left, Paul Buchanan also challenges the official account provided: 'Jones is simply not credible, and unless that unnamed official comes forward to take responsibility for the bogus claims (which Mr. Jones could have ignored), his justification simply does not wash. Add in the fact that Mr. Liu/Yan had donated considerable sums of money to Labour coffers in the lead-in to his citizenship application, and the smell of something fishy permeates the affair' - see his blog post They never learn.

Other useful coverage of the affair comes from Patrick Gower Cunliffe on mystery millionaire; and Claire Trevett (Millionaire granted citizenship on 'humanitarian grounds').

The surprise announcement from the National Government that Foreign flagged fishing boats to be banned has been met with near universal praise. The motivations behind the move, and the likely consequences for the fishing industry, the New Zealand economy and the potential impact on foreign and local workers have yet to be seriously dealt with. There is some dissent about the announcement. Most obviously, there are complaints that the ban isn't being implemented quickly enough Foreign fishing boat moves need to be quicker - critics. Sources close to iwi-owned Aotearoa Fisheries also say that 'reflagging could see Maori going back to the Government for compensation if commercial returns decreased' Foreign boat ban 'will cost'. And the nationalistic left has called for the foreign workers to be replaced completely by New Zealanders - see the blogpost on the Standard, which complains that the decision is only half way there because 'abuses of those crews is only half the problem. The other problem is that we have Kiwi quota owners, in particular iwi, employing foreign fishers while quarter of a million of our people are jobless'.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

- For an update on the Judith Collins defamation case, see Danya Levy's Andrew Little told: You're served, no fries and Newswire's Little claims email backing in ACC row. Levy's article reports that the Labour MP got served his defamation papers when an 'agent waited in the dark outside Labour MP Andrew Little's Wellington house and surprised him when he got out of the taxi with the words: "There's no fries with that but you've been served".' According to Levy, Little complains that there is 'an unwritten law that politicians didn't bother each other's families' and that 'Judith Collins came very close to the mark'. The Newswire article also reports that 'Little says he has email evidence to knock back ACC Minister Judith Collins' defamation case against him'.

- Looking at the surprisingly liberal Government announcement this week about prison reform, the Taranaki Daily News editorial says that 'Previously it would have been the Left-wing parties in Parliament making such noises, and some of the more Right-wing National Party factions will interpret it as their party "going soft" on crime and punishment'. The newspaper suggests that this significant policy shift on law and order is all down to the Maori Party's influence in government - see: Corrections policy shows MMP working. While no doubt true, a more insightful answer can be read in a Colin James column from earlier in the month, in which he perceives a shifting mood amongst both the public and political parties away from hard-line law and order approach - see: A tide in the criminal affairs of men.

- Wealthy individuals funding political parties has turned into a nightmare for all concerned. Brian Rudman goes through a list of recent elite party backers that have caused trouble, starting with Michael Fay's alleged $2m for Labour in the late 1980s, Owen Glenn's $500,000 for the party more recently, the Exclusive Brethren's financial 'help' for National's 2005 campaign, Kim Dotcom's bankrolling of John Banks, and now Louis Crimp's embarrassing relationship with the Act Party. Rudman resurrects the call for state funding of political parties - a 'solution' that is unlikely to find favour with taxpayers - see: Danger of barrow-pushing donor.

- In his latest review of the New Zealand Comedy Festival, Paul Casserly gives a score of 8/10 in Crimpy's Comedy Catastrophe. Also Toby Manhire reports on 'NZ's answer to Michael Moore, Josh Drummond' - see: Gissa job, British American Tobacco. I'm the one dressed up as a cigarette. Keith Ng has also endorsed Drummond in To Whom it May Concern.

- Finally, Russell Brown introduces a discussion on potentially offensive satirical and lewd political cartoons and suggests that we give cartoonists much 'greater latitude' on these matters - see: The Editorial Image.