It was only by a whisker, but finally Finance Minister Bill English has had his day. His long sought Holy Grail (a surplus in 2014/15) was so slim even he had to poke some fun at himself for the size of it.

Standing proudly in front of a bar graph showing years of yawning deficits followed by a tiny yellow bar above the line to show his first surplus, he joked "you can see the surplus on this diagram if you look carefully and hold your glasses a bit further out from your face."

His $414 million surplus is much less than the $1.3 billion which was forecast way back in 2011 when National first set the return to surplus as its top fiscal priority. But it is a surplus in defiance of Treasury's forecasts in May's Budget, which predicted a $684 million deficit instead.

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Government pulls off $414 million surplus

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At that point, English had to suffer through the ignominy of being mocked for falling short of his target. He and Prime Minister John Key both tried to downplay the effect of yet another deficit, saying the difference of a few hundred million dollars either side of the line was negligible. At the time, English had likened it to aiming to lose 10kg but only losing 9.9kg. Today he said "it turns out we've lost
10.1 kg."

He could not resist having a dig at Treasury for its forecasting, He pointed out the surplus delivered today was close to Treasury's forecast in the pre-election fiscal update last year: "they're bound to have got one right somewhere."

The big question that remains is whether English's surplus will be a one hit wonder. In answer to that question, English showed he's learned his lesson about pegging his credibility on forecasts. Asked several times if he intended to deliver further surpluses in the years ahead, he banged on about the international environment and low inflation, low growth times. Asked again whether he would promise to deliver another surplus, he took a slow drink of water before responding:

"We are going to go through a process of re-doing the fiscal targets, let me just say that."

Right then.

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