National is obviously worried. The headline policies from the budget are those which a Labour Government would normally be associated with. Increasing paid parental leave to 18 weeks, funding for free doctors’ visits for young adolescents and funds for Kauri dieback disease research are policies you would associate with a centre left Government. Two of them are policies where Labour has already announced superior alternative proposals. Clearly the Government has tacked left to lessen the effect of policies which Labour has announced.
The budget process is fascinating. It is a big dump of information. It has been crafted over months and months by some of the finest brains in Wellington and the problems and difficulties have been smoothed over and blended until it takes significant effort to even appreciate that they exist. Often it takes weeks to digest and understand all of the implications.
It appears that the surplus has been achieved by the stretching of some accountancy norms. The categorisation of money being paid to Auckland Transport as a loan rather than a grant helps the Government to declare a surplus. The anticipated growth rate at 4% is herculean. And holding off reducing ACC levies has made the job much easier.
Some on the apparent left have criticised Labour. Lew formerly of Kiwipolitico fame tweeted that National had already won the election, before anyone has had a chance to understand the nuances of the budget. He then posted that Labour had been snookered by National adopting its policies. He claimed that Labour had lost because when National moved left Labour should have moved even further left. His analysis I found hard to understand. When a Government starts adopting your policies it is not a failure.
Danyl Mclaughlan summed it up well. He said:
Back in 2011 National campaigned on asset sales. This year they’ll be running on the extension of paid parental leave and free GP visits for kids. Trust me, the majority of National MPs and activists do NOT want to be introducing those policies. I suspect that’s why Key is floating the vague notion of tax cuts at some distant future date – to placate parts of his base, who will be livid about all this communism and wealth transfer and additional welfare dependency.
This is what an election year budget looks like when the opposition is winning the ideological debate. What are National’s big ideas for their third term? There aren’t any. There isn’t anything to address the housing bubble in this budget so there might be a ‘big idea’ campaign policy around that but I doubt it’ll be a free market solution. Whatever they come up with is probably going to look like a watered-down Labour or Green policy.
As I type this National has been smashing through under urgency the change to the paid parental leave. A two week increase to paid parental leave will start from April next year, and the further two weeks will start from April 2016. The use of urgency is at one level difficult to understand. Couples could bonk to their hearts content in July of this year to qualify for the extension.
Obviously National wants this law passed quickly because Sue Moroney’s bill to allow a much more civilised 26 week period is still on Parliament’s order paper. National has during the past month engaged in a really blunt filibuster to make sure that Moroney’s bill was not advanced. Expect English’s veto to be used as soon as National’s bill passes.
And National have been running the line that in Australia a Labour Green Government has run up a horrendous deficit. I am not sure if the Greens will agree with that particular proposition but the claim is really naff in that the last Labour Government ran nine straight budget surplusses. Do not expect an intellectual debate about this any time soon.
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago it was all about selling Meridian shares, this time it was all about giving some muted help to ordinary Kiwis.
It must be election year. And National must be worried.