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WellingtonMarch 28, 2024

Nicola Willis and the present I forgot to buy


Finance minister Nicola Willis delivers her first budget statement, and unwittingly helps Joel MacManus save his relationship.

Nicola Willis strode into the Beehive Theatrette. Around me, on the green foldout seats, were the country’s top business and political journalists. They were all here to see her announce the Budget Policy Statement 2024, which outlines the government’s broad goals for Budget 2024 and how they hope to achieve them. 

The big questions were about how Willis could afford the tax cuts she had promised in the election campaign, even though the operating allowance is much lower than expected and economists think the government can’t afford it. 

But just as Willis was about to begin her press conference, my phone buzzed. A text appeared on screen: “Did you remember the present for my dad?” 

Shit. It was my partner, planning our Easter trip to her parents’ house. I was in trouble. But then, I looked up at the strong and stable finance minister in front of me, gesturing strongly and stably to her PowerPoint slides. I thought to myself, WWNWD (what would Nicola Willis do)?

Willis answered a battering of difficult questions from the press. Her words filled me with the calm, assured confidence I needed to wriggle my way out of this mess.

“I can absolutely confirm that I have fulfilled my commitment to buy the present that I promised I would deliver,” I typed back. 

“What did you end up getting for him?” she asked, trying to trip me up with sneaky, gotcha questions. I won’t fall for that. 

“I can say with 100% confidence that I have purchased a present for your dad. And I can assure you that when he opens that present, it will be meaningful and targeted to him.” 

“You said a few months ago you were going to get him a bottle of 18-year-old scotch. Did you do that?”

“I will not be breaking the promises I made to buy a present for your dad.”

“So you got him a bottle of scotch?”

“I am very conscious of the expectations around this present. It is my guiding principle through this process.”

“Mum thinks he doesn’t need more scotch. Are you sure scotch is a good idea?”

“The most reasonable thing we can do to deliver for your dad is to get him the present he expects and needs. It is the most effective relief we can give him.”

“How much did you spend on the present?”

“The present is part of a medium term course of fiscal consolidation.”

“Why can’t you give me an actual number?”

“I will be held fully accountable for how much I spent on the present, which I will release to you once I deliver the present.”

“Last time I checked, there wasn’t much money in our joint account. We can’t afford an 18-year-old scotch.”

“I utterly reject that. I took a prudent and responsible approach to buying the present, with targeted, effective spending within our means.”

“How did you afford the scotch, then? 

“Through a mixture of savings, reprioritisations, and new income sources.”

“What are those new income sources?”

“I can’t say that today.”

“What are the savings and reprioritisations?”

“I can’t say that today.”

“How much money do we have?”

“I can’t say that today.”

Bullet dodged. Thank you, Nicola Willis. Does anyone know where I can buy an 18-year-old scotch for 23 dollars and 31 cents? 

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