By Jason Walls
The Beehive has been quiet for the last couple of weeks.
The Prime Minister was in Europe and MPs were back in their electorate offices, or travelling the globe, enjoying the recess period.
Even the press gallery was relatively relaxed, with reporters enjoying the less demanding schedule. You could call it a bit of a break, but those who know better would call it the calm before the storm.
In just two and a half weeks, the Government will present its first Budget.
Usually, the weeks leading up to the big day are a time when Ministers drop hints about which lollies they will be distributing for the Budget day scramble.
Cast your minds back just a year ago to National’s will they/won’t they tax cut package.
But this year it’s different.
In early April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern moved to significantly dampen expectations.
She told reporters the previous Government had neglected infrastructure funding to such a degree that the May 17 Budget would be focusing on addressing these issues.
Ardern coined it “the rebuilding Budget.”
“It means we have had to reprioritise some of our own priorities, things that we went into the Budget looking at because of the nature of the underinvestment we’re seeing.”
She didn’t have too much detail at the time, relying instead on using the issues of mould and neglect at Middlemore hospital as providing a “snapshot” of just some of the issues the Government is being forced to fix.
‘Relentlessly positive’ attitudes to be tested
She said during the lead up to the Budget, the Government will be “creating a picture and sharing more publicly what we have found sitting in front of us from the moment we took office and we opened up the books.”
In other words, Ardern and her senior Ministers will be drip-feeding information about how bad the books are for the next two weeks and calling out the previous Government along the way.
The move put the Prime Minister, known for being “relentlessly positive,” into a position where her Government will be driving a campaign that will be anything but.
And the scale looks to be huge – “in almost every portfolio I can think of off the top of my head, I can think of examples where there has been a lack of investment,” Ardern said.
The first Minister off the bloc was Transport Minister Phil Twyford, who – when unveiling a $28 billion funding package with the Auckland Council – slammed National for leaving a $9.7 billion “fiscal hole” in Auckland’s infrastructure.
You read that right; he borrowed the infamous “fiscal hole” phrase which landed former Finance Minister Steven Joyce in hot water before last year’s election.
As was the case after Ardern’s “rebuilding Budget” press conference, National hit back at Twyford, accusing the Government of bending the truth for political gain.
If the pipeline of issues is as extensive as the Prime Minister says – to steal the phrase from Ardern, this is just a “snapshot” of what to expect in the news cycle in the lead up to Budget day.
It will be ugly, messy, divisive but, most importantly, a headline-grabbing “he said, she said” battle between our two biggest parties.
So strap yourself in because the next few weeks will be anything but quiet.