How many times have you seen cricket umpires change the ball because it has lost its shape? Quite a few times I am sure. So when setting the Government’s Budget – who’s making sure that the ball keeps its shape and is still fit for play?

In the context of Budget 2012 it’s of course the Treasury. They are the umpires working from policy papers that have been approved by Cabinet.

The “zero budget” signalled recently by the Minister of Finance, Bill English, suggests that in some Government departments some hard-hitting will need to take place. Programmes and initiatives in health, education and social welfare that might have missed the cut last year are in the frame for further scrutiny and analysis.

The overarching directive from the Treasury to “do more with less” is fine when there are tools available to  improve productivity in the public sector. With the deployment of ultrafast high speed broadband just around the corner and the cloud computing solutions that have already proven their worth in reducing costs in the private sector, the Government must look at innovative ways of using more technology to help drive efficiency and reduce spend. So in this Budget will we see more focus on reducing the Government’s annual $2 billion IT spend? It would be a brave person who thought not.

Now cricket has some interesting rules, none more so than dismissing a batsman with a call for leg before wicket (LBW). But here’s the rub - to claim a LBW dismissal, there has to be an appeal for this ruling by the umpire from the fielding side.

We have seen the power of appeal in action recently when New Zealand diplomats from around the world descended on Wellington earlier this month. Their view was that the cost cutting proposals announced by its Chief Executive on behalf of Treasury were not in line with the stumps and hence they should not be given out LBW. The umpire in this case, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Murray McCully took some time to ultimately decide in favour of the batting team so this LBW dismissal failed.

But what  spectators might have failed to appreciate was this ‘not out’ decision was probably not given on the basis that the ball was going to miss the stumps, the decision to rule in favour of the batsman was because the bowler’s foot was beyond the crease resulting in a “no ball” delivery. Politicians seem to do this all the time – crossing that line. So what are the consequences of delivering a “no ball”? Well the laws of cricket require another ball to be delivered in the same over. So while many people at MFAT are safe for now, it will be interesting to see the range of deliveries to follow in this particular over. A betting person might be tempted to predict that a few bouncers will be coming their way before too long.

Cricket pitches are notorious for changing over time. 

On a fresh pitch, unmarked by the scuffs and scars of play, the ball will be lively and  have plenty of bounce, just like politicians newly elected into office. However, as the game proceeds with the ball being played to all parts of the field, cracks in the pitch inevitably appear. 

So where might the cracks emerge in Budget 2012?

If National’s coalition partners fail to support the Government in the supply and confidence vote the innings will immediately come to a close. Although National has a razor thin majority without the support of the Maori Party – this outcome is very unlikely. That said a month is a long time in politics and a lot could go wrong. Steady and consistent deliveries of new policy from the Government will be the order from National’s captain, John Key.

And what else could stop play? Poor weather. This Budget will probably focus quite a lot on the wet stuff – not just water (particularly water rights and improving water quality across the country), but other liquids such as alcohol and petrol. Given the recent attention to the number of liquor outlets in suburban areas and the wish to curb under-age drinking, further increases in the levies on alcohol seem somewhat inevitable. As  for fuel levies, well it continues to be one of the Government’s cash cows so just like the cricket ball, it is likely to be carefully assessed by the umpires at Treasury before any final decision is made to adjust them.

To be a great batsman you need to have a good eye, quick reflexes and always keep your eye on the ball as a pitch can produce unexpected results.

Hopefully, the worst of the earthquakes in the Canterbury region are behind us, but one must always plan for the unexpected. For that reason, it will be interesting to hear what more the Government has to say about this event and the potential impact of another catastrophic event to one  of our metropolitan centres.

While there will be a need for the Government to score some boundaries in this year’s Budget, just like any good batsman they will need to recognise that it’s not necessary to hit the ball out to the boundary on every delivery. The secret to achieving a good score and a long innings is to keep the scoreboard ticking over evenly so given this, hikes in income tax rates and adjustments to GST are unlikely.

And while the laws of cricket require a ball to keep its shape, remember that it’s anything but round. The seam that binds together the two pieces of leather is designed to inject the X-factor into any game, and it does that incredibly effectively, in all forms of the game, be it 20/20, a one day international or a test match. One might well ask if MMP provides the country with the same X-factor, indeed it appears to hold the parties together despite the stresses and uncertainties of that seam, because New Zealanders like to back the devil they know.

But ultimately the key to a good game of cricket, and a fair game, is to make sure that the ball doesn’t lose its shape. So, just like umpires do in one of the world’s most popular games, Treasury officials must be vigilant and follow every delivery to ensure that happens.

Further enquiries, please contact:

Mark Hucklesby           
National Technical Director, Audit
T + 64 (0)9 308 2581
E mark.hucklesby@nz.gt.com