The past year has shown that the Government makes a rather contrary Santa. A stocktake of the presents it has given in the past year or so reveals that the general naughty or nice rule doesn't seem to apply, or at least only in a very arbitrary fashion.

In general it's black and white - a bit like an old Western, there are goodies and baddies.

Team New Zealand is good, and was rewarded with a warmup present of $5 million. Solid Energy was bad, but still found its coal was worth its weight in gold in the form of a Government bailout - all $155 million of it. Even as Christmas looms, the elves are in negotiations with Chorus over a present to soften the blow of a Commerce Commission decision on copper pricing.

There are other gift protocols that don't apply to the Government. In general society, it is polite to remove the price tag from presents before they are given. But when it comes to the Government, removing the price tag prompts riots in the streets (or at least on Twitter) at the lack of transparency. It is also against the laws of fiscal responsibility.


This requirement to flash a price tag about is fortunate for the Government in some cases, especially as a new election year dawns. Voters generally don't like being fobbed off with an "it's the thought that counts" line - which Labour's leader, David Cunliffe, appears to be applying to whether it will buy back the SOEs National has sold.

If you're going to splash out the money on feel-good initiatives you'd want to make damn sure that the masses knew they weren't being given the stocking filler in the corner of the bargain bin.

So the funding for Team NZ was shoved under the tree with some haste to ensure it coincided with the patriotic warm afterglow of sympathy with the team's loss after such a good tournament.

The Government has also hinted that a late Christmas present in the form of extended paid parental leave might be in the offing.

Another arbitrary decision was the extra subsidies for the film and television industry. The public might perceive a good movie as a goody. But the general feeling was that, blockbusters such as The Hobbit excluded, the subsidies to prop it up were such a sponge on taxpayers' money that they were on the "bad" side of the government ledger.

Surprise! Last week, the Government announced it had elbowed the Scrooge of Treasury out of the way to present an increase in the very subsidies it had previously moaned about.

Then came the first-home buyers, who are generally perceived as "goodies" - especially up against the "baddies" of property speculators. Have a 20 per cent loan-to-value ratio. Merry Christmas!

It is fair to say there are some presents for which the Government would rather the public didn't see the price tag. Again the Solid Energy bailout springs to mind.

The biggest present is perhaps the one the Government gave itself in the form of the profits from partial asset sales. That was originally sold as a top-shelf present. Alas, its value was degraded by the price of coal and attempts by the left to keep ripping the sticky tape off the wrapping by holding a referendum and announcing pesky policies to further regulate the industry.

What all this gift giving has shown us is the pecking order among the reindeer that drag Santa around. Steven Joyce has arisen as Rudolph, the attention-hogger who takes the lead while his fellows do the heavy dragging behind him. His remit as "Super Minister" - aka the vague "economic development" - gives him the flexibility to trot into almost any area of his choosing simply by claiming it involves the economy somehow.

This is possibly because he feels that being handed Novopay is bad news enough for any minister, giving him rights of possession over other "good news" stories to make up for it. The general rule of thumb he appears to apply is that if it emanates a warm glow, it's his portfolio. But if it emanates a nuclear haze, he's doing his hair that day.

So poor old Simon Bridges was left to fight the deep sea oil drilling PR battle largely alone. But when it came to the Avatar movies, there was Joyce, the wise man bearing the gold. Meanwhile, Arts Minister Chris Finlayson, who did the vast bulk of the work on the film subsidy package, was left as a wallflower in the corner.

The same thing happened with the America's Cup. Sports Minister Murray McCully was in the Caribbean in his other role as Foreign Minister. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and so it was Joyce who stood alongside the crew mopping up the tears with promissory notes after the loss.