English: If Key wants tax cuts, he'll get them

Bill English (Simon Wong)
Bill English (Simon Wong)

Bill English says if he and John Key disagree on what to do with next year's expected surplus -- pay down debt or cut taxes -- what the Prime Minister wants, the Prime Minister gets.

The Finance Minister delivered his eighth Budget on Thursday, and if the reaction is anything to go by he's succeeded in his goal of making the annual lolly scramble "a bit less relevant".

Story presenter Duncan Garner called it "forgettable" and United Future leader Peter Dunne said it was "pretty boring".

For the Opposition, this translated to "visionless" (James Shaw, Green Party co-leader), a "mish mash of sticking plasters" (Labour finance spokesperson Grant Robertson) and "a get-stuffed Budget" (Winston Peters, New Zealand First leader).

Mr English wouldn't have it any other way, saying the Government's "boring" investment approach to funding is focused on getting results long-term, and critics are focusing on the wrong things.

"There's plenty of people around the Beehive here, plenty of ministers who want to get their thing in. But the bit I'm most pleased about is the way we've increased the focus on getting results," he told Paul Henry on Friday.

"A lot of critics are stuck in this mode where they judge a Budget by how much money it shovels out -- that's not a measure of how you care. The best measure is whether you get results for people who need them."

Like his boss, Mr English wants to deliver tax cuts "when fiscal conditions are right". However, over the last eight years, New Zealand's public debt has risen from about $10 billion in 2008 to more than $60 billion, and yesterday's Budget showed it is expected to peak in 2018 at almost $70 billion.

Mr English has said he'd like to pay it down, but Mr Key -- perhaps with an eye on the 2017 election -- is keen for tax cuts. Mr English says tax cuts are pointless if they aren't big enough for people to notice, and paying down debt will give the country more choice in the future.

If he can't convince the Prime Minister of this though, Mr English says he'll back down.

"We've worked together closely for eight years now, 10 years since he became the leader, and we're always in these discussions. Quite often the Prime Minister gets to make the call as the Prime Minister should, but it's amazing how often we agree, which is just about all the time."

As for the critics, Mr English says it's time to "get on with life".

"For most people, the Budget will be gone by tonight."