Not content with plain packaging for cigarettes, the Government has decided to plain pack the 2012 Budget as well.
It’s packaging that isn’t going to make much difference, but it appeals to the unambitious austerity of the times.
There is no National branding, but everyone knows what is inside; no new money and awkward spending shifts that many people will notice.
The little cuts are what you would expect of a plain pack product: like changing primary school class sizes to reduce the number of teachers, cutting medicine funding by $2 per prescription, closing tax breaks for renting out holiday homes, removing the childcare, housekeeper and income-under-$9,880 tax credits.
But National has found even more corners to cut. For example, children will now pay income tax on part-time work outside of informal cash-in-hand work. The penny-pinching impact of this policy on middle New Zealand may prove the most politically destructive decision of the Budget.
These are all nips and tucks of a plain package product rather than bold or imaginative moves of a premium product.
Ironically, National has used the ‘old-style’ cigarette tax to claw back some of the tax revenue it is losing from falling economic activity.
National plain packaged this Budget to reduce political harm from the continued poor performance of the economy. But the intent is transparent, and the public is growing tired of penny-pinching.
If the Budget forecasts are not achieved next year, yet again, another plain pack Budget will not be enough.