The concept is both reassuring, and yet frightening. The government is cutting a billion dollars of what they call "low priority spending".

The good news is it is clearly a fiscally prudent, conservative, and sensible approach.

The frightening thing is they have a billion dollars in loose change they can simply cut.


It gives a good insight into just how badly awry things can go when you are using other peoples' money.

Part of the $1 billion is $200 million from the "next year's on me" fund. The fund that paid for students to study for free that was a complete and utter flop.

And it was another of the Prime Ministers's wildly enthusiastic and yet hopelessly idealistic ideas that involved, in theory, thousands lining up for free study, and yet in reality almost nobody lining up for free study.

I still think the Hipkins excuse on my show that it must have been a success because it stopped rolls falling even further, with no evidence that any such thing happened, is still right up there for one of this year's best/worst excuses for failure.

The sad thing about the idea was not only did it throw millions at an issue that didn't need millions throwing at it, but it was quite obviously never going to work.

Tertiary education is not inaccessible, hasn't been for years, and as such all those who wish to study do. Further, when they crunched the numbers, they found those that did take up the offer didn't, by and large, stay and were the most likely to bail.

Why? Because it was free, and when it's free you end up with tyre kickers, not people dedicated to study, advancing themselves, and willing to make the sacrifice.

The other reason Grant Robertson is trimming things by a billion is he has a slowing economy.


The promises of 3 per cent-plus growth have proved fanciful. We are in the low 2s, the Reserve Bank has cut the OCR to stimulate matters, and this country is in some real economic bother. Not that the government is telling you this right now - but if we had an opposition they might like to point this out.

The budget will be the one to watch. A tremendous amount has been made of the "wellbeing" aspect of it - yet more clap-trap that means nothing.

The $100 million announced the other day on teacher placements? I asked Hipkins how it passed the wellbeing test. He said, with a straight face, that better teachers lead to better outcomes, and that leads to better wellbeing. No kidding, Sherlock.

So let's be honest - all budgets are wellbeing budgets. They hand out money, and the people getting free money tend to feel good about it. There is "wellbeing" ticked.

If there is a bright side, it's Robertson himself. Amid the madness of Twyford and Kiwibuild, Ardern and free study, Jones and his increasingly suspicious PGF, we have Robertson, who at least I think understands red from black.

And still favours, thank the good Lord, the latter.