Government plays it safe with budget

ANTHONY HUBBARD
Last updated 14:25 15/05/2014

Budget 2014: What did you think?

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OPINION: This is a deliberately bland and even boring budget. The government has clearly decided that grey and safe is its best hope in election year.

The only surprise was free doctors' visits for under-13-year olds. Middle New Zealand will welcome it, as it will many of the other, carefully-telegraphed handouts.

More paid parental leave: who could object? A bit more help with childcare costs: of course.

National have made a virtue of small gifts: it shows that they are "responsible" and not spending money they don't have.

And that is why the fact of the $372m surplus is intended to have such political heft. The amount is piffling within a $70b budget, and would make no economic difference if it was an equally mouse-sized deficit.

But the surplus is the signal that Daddy has brought us home safely after a nasty trip through recession. And if we carry on being careful and good, life will carry on improving.

Finance minister Bill English gave a hint of tax cuts to come, but waffled when pressed. So that means National is keeping its tax promises till closer to the election.

The real question is: is this all the voters want: thrift, mild rewards, steady-as-she-goes? The dissenters have pointed to National's staggering lack of flair and imagination. No big new policies, no bold new directions, no surprises.

But that is what the John Key government is, and so far it has won elections. In tough times, the government has spent freely to keep the ship afloat, and then it has slowly brought it to the fiscal shore. Now it welcomes us to dry land.

There is amounting clamour in other quarters about some large problems such as child poverty and deepening inequality. The Budget makes a few dabs at these, with its paltry $33m for "vulnerable children" and its insistence that it hasn't neglected any part of the family while it battled through the bad times.

At present the anger in the streets is muted, as nearly always in New Zealand, and the mainstream is largely content with small mercies and our arrival back in the black.

Will it do the political business? It seems quite likely.

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