Bill English – Ashamed of being a hypocrite?

Written By: - Date published: 11:29 am, February 18th, 2009 - 12 comments
Categories: bill english - Tags:

David Cunliffe has been doing something that Bill English really hates – asking questions about actual accounting and fiscal practices. The reason that Bill hates this is because he keeps getting caught in his mythologies of opposition. These were designed more for the dogwhistle brigade who prefer a good incorrect story to what is required for a minister of finance. This press release amused me because it so epitomized the internal conflicts that Bill faces.

Labour Finance spokesperson David Cunliffe today called on Finance Minister Bill English to come clean on the use of specific and contingent fiscal risks in the budget process.

‘Instead of trumping up charges of ‘unallocated’ future spending, why does he not admit that specifying future but unquantified fiscal risks is a requirement of the Public Finance Act,’ David Cunliffe said.

Today in an answer to oral parliamentary questions Mr English reluctantly confirmed that he intends to continue the practice of listing such risks in Budget 2009.

‘Mr English cannot have it both ways. Either these practices are reprehensible fiscal holes that bedevilled the former Government, or they are a legal requirement that he intends to continue,’ David Cunliffe said.

‘It is unfortunate that as well as dissembling on this crucial probity matter, Mr English was unwilling to face ongoing questioning, and fled the House during Question Time.”

Bill English's alternate ego

Bill English's (alter)ego

It is obvious to anyone that has done any kind of accounting or project planning that it is difficult or outright impossible to fully define contingent risks and liabilities. You have to put the risks into the accounts to show that they are present and what you think that a reasonable cost is. You do not fully find them because you actually don’t have any real idea about what the actual cost is. It is more of a probability statement than anything else, an exercise in the arcane art of quantum accounting probabilities.

The closer you get to the period of time the tighter your estimates can be and the more limited the risk levels. Then your funding provision can be more accurate. Long projects are typically use some kind of staged funding system.

If Bill still needed to know this simple fiscal truth when he was attacking the 5th Labour government as finance spokesperson, then he was either incompetent for the role or was simply being a hypocrite. I (charitably) tend towards the latter view. The prospect of having another incompetent National minister of finance is appalling to someone with memories of previous incarnations.

So it is no wonder that Bill is ashamed to face questions on the subject. For that matter he seems to be avoiding questions of why he is faking routine spending or tax cuts by the last government as being a new ‘stimulus package’. That lack of backbone does seem to be the Bill English trademark these days. You can tell, he always looks like he is swallowing a dead fish.

Thanks to The Lineman for his depiction of Bill English as Palpatine. The twisting, turning, and outright squirming that Bill has had to do recently does seem to make him as trustworthy as a sith apprentice. Perhaps John Key should read and learn from other mythologies than his own PR..

12 comments on “Bill English – Ashamed of being a hypocrite?”

  1. BLiP 1

    Palpatine English is a National Party politician – they have no shame.

  2. ghostwhowalks 2

    I see the private (unintegrated) schools are howling that they are running out of money,

    Whats the bet that this is one area that wont be getting a cut in this years budget and will probably be getting a huge boost.
    Making do with less is not something these elite private schools are interested in.

  3. I thought Cunliffe did a very good job on English in Parliament yesterday and it really did sound like he [English] was on the mat. He then left before he could answer the next question.

    I have always had a grudging respect for English, he appears to be more competent, more honest and less shrill than his colleagues. Maybe he had the dignity to be embarassed when he used the “Labour did not budget for this” because he knew it was not true?

  4. Mike 4

    Roger Douglas is Palpatine.
    Bill is the fresh faced padawan who has yet to be eaten out from within by the dark side.

  5. Mike,

    I couldn’t agree more. English hasn’t got a clue what he’s in for and boy, will he have a wake up call soon. I wonder will he ever wake up to the fact that the corruption he will have to embrace if he wants to stay in his job will come from mr Nice, his boss?

    John Key who will do his money masters bidding while all the time saying “it’s nothing personal, just business”, just as he did when he fired all his colleagues at Merrill Lynch in 1998 earning him the nick name the “Smiling Assassin”?

    Who and what will he Assassinate here in this country I wonder?

    Captcha: VANQUISH dugout. Hmmm.

  6. northpaw 6


    vg. — so very interesting, too.


    RD is Palpatine = aka Darth Sidious.. So very IN as it happens. Though elsewhere.. with wannabes here.

    Of course.

  7. Tigger 7

    shost – English is a private school alumni so expect lots of sympathy from him there.

    National really do have ‘cuts’ and ‘stimulus’ mixed up, don’t they. They remind me of an impotent guy who thinks taking Panadol will give them the same effect as taking Viagra. There’s nothing at all stimulating about their plans.

  8. Tim Ellis 8

    LP wrote:

    It is obvious to anyone that has done any kind of accounting or project planning that it is difficult or outright impossible to fully define contingent risks and liabilities.

    I’m sorry LP, but that isn’t correct. There is very clear criteria for including both quantified and unquantified fiscal risks in the BEFU, HYEFU, and PREFU. Most fiscal risks are generally announcements of policy intentions by government, or areas of expenditure which are highly likely to be incurred, for which no budget allocation has yet been made. These risks can be either quantified or unquantified. Contingent liabilities are a different element entirely, which may have a lower likelihood of being incurred, such as the outcome of litigation.

    The 2008 BEFU and PREFU documents were jammed with both quantified and unquantified fiscal risks that weren’t included in the 2008/2009 budget. They were spending commitments that formed promises that Labour Ministers were trumping up and down the country but for which no budget allocation had been made.

    The purpose of including a statement of fiscal risks is to provide an accurate picture of likely liabilities under active consideration by Ministers that will have an impact on the operating balance. The purpose is not to hide all your spending commitments so that you don’t have to account for them and make your operating balance look good.

    [lprent: I was using contingent is the management version rather than the legal or accounting (or as you pointed out government fiscal) more specific meanings. It means where the actual values are reliant on other factors that are outside your direct control. For instance looking at discount rates or inflation rates or labour rates or interest rates or the price of fuel in 5 years time.]

  9. Tim Ellis 9

    Tigger, English went to St Patrick’s college in Silverstream, a Catholic integrated school. That hardly makes him a “private school alumni”. You may be confusing him with Michael Cullen, who went to Christ’s College, or perhaps even David Cunliffe, who went to Harvard.

  10. Kevin Welsh 10


    As someone who also attended a Catholic integrated college, I can assure you that although integrated, certain conditions must be met to enrol your child there. You do not have automatic right of attendance unlike the local high school.

    I would have thought you would be all-for Michael Cullen and David Cunliffe having a private school education.

  11. Tim Ellis 11

    Kevin, I understand your point. I don’t have a view on Michael Cullen and David Cunliffe getting private education. My point was that trying to imply that Bill English is an elitist because of a “private school” background, when he went to St Pat’s, is ridiculous.

  12. Tim Ellis 12

    LP, under the PFA, there are a whole range of fiscal risks that are specifically excluded from the forecasts, including asset revaluations, exchange rate fluctuations, and accounting policy changes.

    That isn’t what Bill English was talking about. Let’s say, hypothetically, a Minister went around the country saying before the election: “We are going to build the Waterview Connection.”

    Now, in the PREFU, because the full costings haven’t been done on it yet, it appears as a quantified risk of $1.5 billion, and forms part of the statement of fiscal risks. They know how much it is going to cost, but the Minister of Finance hasn’t approved the project yet, and decisions needed to be made before the election on whether to toll the road or not, which would have reduced the fiscal risk. That quantum doesn’t form part of the operating balance.

    The issue is, knowing even the quantified fiscal risks, that is, how much they are going to cost, and making promises to commit to those projects, as Labour did with Waterview, is it appropriate to allow such projects to remain as merely fiscal “risks” and not budget for them, just to boost your operating balance?

    The quantified risks alone in the PREFU amounted to at least 5 billion of extra spending, which Labour was happy to announce but for which they didn’t provide a budget allocation. Are you comfortable with that scenario? I’m not.

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