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May 03rd 2016 print

Christian Kerr

Budgeting to Buy Some Votes

With an election just weeks away, we are unlikely to be given a full and frank account of the seriousness of the structural deficit, let alone shown a plan for its abolition. What we hear from Scott Morrison tonight should be taken no more seriously than all and any of Wayne Swan’s delusions

bribe boxFor a few short years in the late 1860s a satirical newspaper published by a scion of the Mitford family could be found on the streets of Adelaide. No, really. Eustace Reveley Mitford – for that was his name – had failed as a farmer. He had been jailed briefly for debt. Yet he was convinced he should have been a wealthy man. Mitford insisted he had been cheated of a claim on the giant Burra copper deposits by the policies of the colony’s tireless but sometimes controversial Survey-General, George Woodroffe Goyder, of line-of-rainfall fame.

So he pursued his vendetta every week in the pages of his paper, Pasquin: The Pastoral, Mineral and Agricultural Advocate, lambasting the colonial administrators and other local worthies until, exhausted by his violent and vituperative journalistic efforts and – perhaps, more so – keeping his creditors from his door, the unhappy Mitford expired, intestate.

Why this lengthy introduction? Yes, Mitford and his journal are nothing but historical trivia. But Pasquin contained what might be the best-christened column in the country since the first printing press in Australia creaked into action back in 1788. His parliamentary sketches were titled “Figures of Speech on North Terrace,” North Terrace being then – and now – the home of the South Australian legislature.

A century and a half after Pasquin it would be a cinch to bash out a column every day on Figures of Speech on Capital Hill and at no time easier than on Budget Day. Remember Wayne Swan’s “credible path back to surplus”? About as credible as Swan himself.

And what of Scott Morrison’s figures of speech? They may have been even more spectacular. Yesterday morning he dragged the Press Gallery hordes across the New South Wales border to that almost-MGM backlot set of “real Australia”, Queanbeyan, to visit the premises of a circuit-board manufacturer; mum-and-dad-ish enough to represent small business but also with a sufficiently futuristic focus to satisfy the government’s requirements for technobabble.

And what did Morrison have to say about tonight’s package? “It’s not a typical budget,” he declared. Ah! “Not a typical budget.” A master of understatement, our Scott. It will not be a typical budget at all.

To begin with, while labelled “a budget”, it will not be a budget at all. It will effectively be a campaign manifesto; ironically the most detailed campaign manifesto we’ve seen since John Hewson’s ill-fated Fightback package appeared 25 years ago.

Morrison’s budget statement tonight will not really be a budget statement. Effectively, it will be the speech the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition delivers at the campaign launch. Its job will not so much be to set out the government’s economic priorities but to fire up the faithful, persuade the waverers and sway the sceptical.

It will be, or so what has been leaked so far to whet our appetites suggests, yet another exercise in the all-must-have-prizes politics – all special interest groups that make enough noise, in any case – that has become the norm in this country.

Not a typical budget? The usual glib and over-simplified lists of winners and losers is already well-sketched. The newspapers and current affairs shows have their cameo stories on superannuants, single mums, small business people and the like in the can and ready to roll.

The actual numbers, like the figures in all recent budgets, will be rubbery; based on over-optimistic estimates of growth. And with an election just eight-and-a-bit weeks away we are unlikely to be given a full and frank account of the seriousness of the structural deficit, let alone shown a plan for its abolition that can be taken more seriously than any of Wayne Swan’s delusions.

But such are the figures of speech on Capital Hill.

Comments [5]

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    Still love your work, Christian. Great to see you here.

  2. Eeyore says:

    Wayne Swans delusions indeed.

  3. Bran Dee says:

    Hockey and Abbott for some self deluded reason thought it best to go soft on reform in the first budget and toughen up later, like now. Initially they wanted to bask in the gratitude and admiration of the electorate and making a hard sell was not their talent. But Turnbull and Morrison will find it all too late to be tough just before an election even as we plunge deeper in to debt.

  4. Mr Johnson says:

    There will be no ‘tough’ budgets ever again. The politicians know that the public likes never ending sunshine and free stuff, and if you try and look politically long term, then kiss your ass and job goodbye. Poor Tony tried to give us a hard budget first up, but skewered his own efforts by trying to push the ‘living within our means’, and ‘belt tightening’ schtik while dragging around a $20b Paid Parental Leave scheme chained to his ankle. We’ll look back one day and say, “remember when we were only half a $trillion in debt?” I just hope we have enough future taxpayers to pay for the guys who have never paid tax – *sigh*

  5. Keith Kennelly says:

    Well, this budget sees my company tax reduced, since it only returns a profit of 20 odd thou a year, I’ll gain $150 odd. Sadly I don’t have 1.6 mil I super so the negative there doesn’t affect me. As I only put in 20 odd hours a week, sometimes, I can’t justify paying myself the eighty odd thousand needed to gain a break from racket creep tax relief.

    So I still think they should have cut the spending and made more people actual pay more in tax than the benefits they receive. And they should have cut the bloody spending by more than $450mil a year. They spent $500 billion.

    If they think this budget is responsible they are as deluded as swan. If they think this budget will reverse my intention to vote Malcolm and Scott out they are stupid.