Audrey Young: Joyce's first Budget won't be the one that defines him


Audrey Young: Joyce's first Budget won't be the one that defines him
  1. Audrey Young: Joyce's first Budget won't be the one that defines him
    nzherald.co.nz
    When John Key suddenly resigned as Prime Minister, an imperceptible power shift meant deputy leader Bill English was the only serious contender to replace him. That wasn't always the case.Steven Joyce was considered an…
    Politics
With the good times back, the job is much harder for Finance Minister. Illustration / Guy Body

When John Key suddenly resigned as Prime Minister, an imperceptible power shift meant deputy leader Bill English was the only serious contender to replace him.

That wasn't always the case.

Steven Joyce was considered an obvious heir, if Key had fallen under a bus (along with Simon Power who retired early from politics). English was not in the picture.

But something changed over National's first and second terms and Joyce was slowly overtaken by English in a power shift that became obvious only when the crunch came.

By that time, it would have been a shock had Key implored the caucus to select Joyce as his replacement instead of English last December.

Joyce has to be satisfied with being Finance Minister, and next week he delivers his first and possibly only Budget if National cannot form the next Government.

Satisfied is an important word because he is. There has never been any sense of rivalry with English or sense that Joyce felt hard done by or deprived a chance at the top job.

He certainly has never cultivated the backbench like many of those with leadership aspirations have and still do.

But his various jobs as the Government's key political strategist, National's election campaign chairman for five consecutive elections, as well as Finance Minister, clearly make him the second most powerful man in the country.

Next week's Budget won't be the one that defines Joyce or even shows what sort of minister he would be like if he is back in the job next term.

Continued below.

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There just hasn't been time to stamp his mark on the portfolio yet. And they are still English's surplus to spend.

A logical demarcation has already occurred with English and his protege, Amy Adams, continuing the work on social spending, while Joyce and his protege, Simon Bridges, are continuing the work on roads, trains, bridges, business, and reducing taxation.

That evolution was evident in the respective pre-Budget speeches by English on social investment and Joyce on infrastructure.

Other differences in style may emerge behinds the scenes. Joyce is a details person and may likely be more demanding on Treasury to improve its forecasting and policy analysis than English.

English saw Treasury expand its thinking beyond balance sheets into improving people's lives and engaging with a greater range of stakeholders.

Led by Gabriel Makhlouf, Treasury is not likely to drop that new dimension - and nor would Joyce expect it to. But it may not remain as important now that English is no longer Minister of Finance.

The reason Joyce was overtaken by English over two terms was not so much that Joyce's stocks fell, although they did a little (Sky City, MBIE excesses, Northland byelection, Eminem); it was because English's stocks rose through his performance as Finance Minister.

The bad times served English well. Good times are harder for finance ministers.

In an era in which expectations of success were low, he asserted himself as steward of the public service and produced a plan and results that stood out.

The bad times served English well. Good times are harder for finance ministers.

The language of Budget changed: cuts became savings and spending became investments. His catch cry was "Restraint is permanent".

Now the good times are back, the job is much harder for Joyce. He has more choices than English had.

But things have not returned to normal. The year National took office in the midst of the global financial crisis was the year politics-as-usual stopped. Politicians stopped making big promises.

The electorate was looking for restraint and that expectation has not disappeared.

Steven Joyce's challenge will be to produce an election year Budget without it looking too much like an election year Budget.

It is important to remember that this is the first financial year since 2008 that started with a known surplus.

The 2015-16 year eventually posted a $414 million surplus, but at the start of that year it was forecast to be a deficit of…

With the good times back, the job is much harder for Finance Minister. Illustration / Guy Body