BEN THOMAS

With his first budget as Finance Minister, Steven Joyce let Labour and the Greens chase him until he caught them.

Opposition parties have attacked the National government for hoarding surpluses despite pressing needs to support middle income families, infrastructure and social investment.

So now Joyce can spend up large with impunity. And his mix of political canniness and book-keeping nous means the cash surplus over the next four years after his massive infrastructure splurge is "almost exactly nil", leaving the opposition precious room to move. As a political hit, it's like a sniper shot with ruthless precision.

The "families package" tax-adjustments of up to $20 a week give a welcome top up for low and middle income earners, and also lards the incomes of the important superannuitant vote as well.

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Joyce correctly says the answer is not always to throw more money at issues. But where the main problem is decades of underfunding, it's a good start. So an extra $55m for the mental health service is welcome.

There are misses too. Some of our biggest problems, such as housing, are due to regulatory failure. Here more money, like significant increases to the accommodation supplement, are like papering over the cracks in draughty rental houses.

TRISH SHERSON

Trish Sherson, former press secretary. Photo / Supplied
Trish Sherson, former press secretary. Photo / Supplied

It's the Dad of all budgets. Steven Joyce is taking care of the family, paying off the mortgage and finally putting some money into the infrastructure extensions New Zealand needs because of a growing population.

It's the budget for the battlers or 'Steve's strugglers'- hard working low and middle-income families lured with a cash carrot straight out of the John Howard playbook. They'll get more cash each week to raise their kids and pay for a roof over their heads - if they tick National's box in September.

The Dad budget is a brazen intrusion into Labour's heartland. Michael Cullen would have been proud to deliver it. Steve's pitch for the strugglers left the working man's champion, Andrew Little, glibly shouting: "You should have done it sooner!"

But Joyce knows that the Kiwi families he's targeting feel New Zealand's rosy economic outlook is built on their hard work. They've lived on bread and butter and now they deserve some jam.

And the same could be said for National - after years of tight budgets they they're now able to loosen the purse strings to help secure a fourth term.

Kiwi businesses didn't really feature in this budget - unless you're in tourism or infrastructure. But they'll rest comfortably on the fat pillow of increasing Government surpluses dreaming of catching the lollies next year.

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JON STOKES

Jon Stokes, former Herald journalist. Photo / Supplied
Jon Stokes, former Herald journalist. Photo / Supplied

It wasn't that many years ago that allocating funding for "Maori" was tantamount to putting a cross hair on the forehead of mainstream political ambitions in an election year.

It is a sign that significant progress has been made when a National Government, intent on securing a fourth term, budgets an additional $100 million in funding to support Maori development in an election year -even if the amount is small in comparison to the lolly scramble it has engaged to appeal to general voters.

This is the 3rdyear in a row Minister of Maori Affairs Te Ururoa Flavell has secured additional funding of more than $100 million for Maori Development - this year to support "whanau-centred" initiatives, language revitalisation, housing and land development and $10 million for tourism.

It could be Minister Flavell's last twirl of the poi as Minister of Maori Affairs, and he looks to have used the opportunity well to secure Maori support at the polls.

National clearly too have decided the time for frugality has come to an end. Bill English clearly wants to claim the role of PM out-right rather than it be seen as a John Key hand-me-down post the election.