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May 10th 2018 print

Des Moore

Budget 2018: Go Figure

In essence, spending under the Coalition government has been increasing at about the same rate as GDP since 2013-14 with no sign of any intent to reduce the size of government. Treasurer Morrison has given this trend a once-over-lightly tickle but has not in any way slapped down spending

wheelA huge amount has been written about the 2018-19 Budget presented on Tuesday by Treasurer Scott Morrison as a 7 year plan to make personal income tax “lower, simpler and fairer” (see attached Morrison on Effect of Tax Cuts). But the proposed changes in the structure of the income tax system are not worth considering other than as possible thoughts for  future budgets. There will be at least three more elections by 2025 and many thoughts raised or proposed about the structure. It is already apparent that the proposed changes in the tax treatment of those on high incomes will not get through the Senate and neither will the already proposed further reductions in company tax.

The proposed structural tax changes in this budget may, in part, be included to divert attention away from the absence of any significant changes in the levels of taxation and government expenditure included in the budget itself. The large proposed spending on infrastructure, of which Turnbull has sought to portray himself as instigator, does not impinge on the underlying cash result, which is estimated to now be in a miniscule surplus in 2019-20 (previously in 2020-21).

I wondered before the Budget was unveilled if it would meet the Coalition’s “small government” objective and suspected the widely foreshadowed reductions in taxes would be limited  because of the failure of the Coalition to effect a more substantive reduction in the budget deficit of $48.5bn which Labor left it in 2013-14 and which was still at $23.6 bn (1.3 per cent of GDP) in the Mid-Year estimates for the current financial year (2017-18). I noted that expert analysts predicted that  the reductions would likely be limited to only about $8bn, which would be a reduction of only about 2 per cent of total taxes.

In fact, the budget provides that, even after allowing for the much-flaunted income tax cuts, total  individual income tax payments are estimated to increase by no less than 6.0 % in 2018-19. For the four years to 2021 the estimate of the cuts is only $11.6bn, which means that the tax cuts over those four years would only reduce the collection of income taxes by slightly more than 1 per cent from what they would otherwise be (for comparison, the estimate/projection of income taxes for the four years is now $954bn).

The cuts in total taxation over the four years are fractionally more than $11.6bn (see below the Tax Outlook published in Budget Paper No 1 for 2018-19). Overall,  there is an increase in the proportion of national income (GDP) paid in total and income taxes. Total taxes and income taxes as a proportion of GDP are available from the budget papers as follows (income taxes in brackets).

2016-17         21.6% (11.0%)
2017-18         22.7% (11.2%)
2018-19         23.1% (11.4%)
2019-20         23.3% (11.4%)        
2020-21         23.6% (11.8%)
2021-22         23.9% (12.1%)

The previous highest rate of total taxation was 24.3 per cent of GDP in each of 2004-05 and 2005-06, when the mining boom lifted incomes. The proposed maximum tax by Morrison is an arbitrary 23.9 per cent of GDP which, strangely, would allow for an increase in total taxes of 0.8% of GDP, or $17bn, between now and 2021-22.

Tax outlook

Table 2 (below) reconciles the 2018-19 Budget estimates of tax receipts with the 2017-18 Budget and the 2017-18 MYEFO estimates. Since the 2017-18 MYEFO, tax receipts, including new policy, have been revised up by $8.2 billion in 2018-19 and $12.0 billion over the four years to 2021-22. Excluding new policy, tax receipts have been revised up by $8.0 billion in 2018-19 and $25.9 billion over the four years to 2021-22.

des table 2

Expenditure and Net Debt

The foregoing assessment of the Budget in regard to tax cuts has similarities when the provisions for expenditure are examined. This shows that  expenditures are estimated t o increase by  3.1 per cent in real terms in 2018-19, following an increase of 2.7 per cent real in the current year. In essence, spending under the Coalition government has been increasing at about the same rate as GDP since 2013-14 and hence has not shown any sign of reducing the size of government.

The forward estimates do provide for a slower growth after 2018-19, but the next election is likely to see a return to keeping pace with GDP. With revenues estimated to be higher than spending from 2019-20 on, there is an opportunity to start reducing net debt as the Howard-Costello government did (by 2005-06 net debt was almost zero and the federal government became a net assets holder).

Net debt increased under the Labor government from 2009-10 to about 13 per cent of GDP in 2013-14 and an estimated 18.4 per cent in 2018-19. It is now estimated to fall to 14.7 per cent in 2021-22, but that depends on lowering spending and/or saving more from collections of taxes.

Comments [7]

  1. Jody says:

    You can throw all the graphs and figures around that you want. The overwhelming fact is that Australians will not tolerate losing their ‘entitlements’ or going without services at minimal cost to themselves. No government is going to throw itself over a cliff for values and integrity when the community itself has precious little of this themselves. Reality check.

    • whitelaughter says:

      How much of the money spent is actually *providing* said entitlements? The massive increase in education spending giving ever worsening figures comes to mind. A blunt ultimatum to schools to either pull their socks up or lose the extra funding could be sold to the public.
      And it would be a lot easier to sell such messages to the public if the ABC and SBS were unfunded.

      A ruthless assault on perks provided solely for the benefit of those who will never vote for the govt – frex pretty much the entire arts budget – is also an obvious move. Why exactly is the Human Wrongs Commission getting a single cent?

      An attack on pointless fiscal churn – frex we tax doctors, then give them the money back via medicare, requiring two separate armies of public servants – is yet another avenue to explore. We could avoid bureaucracies at both state and federal level by having school fees act as franking credits, so that the money currently travelling through the tax, federal education and state education departments, would instead go straight from parents to their chosen schools – with the added advantage of freeing the schools from govt interference.

      • Jody says:

        You and I both know all these thing should be axed – but the people are welded to their nanny teats. And there’s an Opposition of class warriors who’ve made a ‘rolled gold’ guarantee that no Australian would go without. It’s a total recipe for disaster. At least Morrison stood up to Leigh Sales on Tuesday night; it was such a good look.

        • whitelaughter says:

          The “people”? Nah, both parties have shown that they despise their vote bases and ignore them. The broader electorate is not the problem: and if they were, they still wouldn’t matter as the system is set up to ignore them.

          The question is, which key groups are entrenched in the system, and how can they be winkled out? The ABC is an obvious case; they get govt funding which they use to attack any threat to their funding. I’ve no doubt that every other pork barrelling problem is a similar situation. what will need to be done is to hit the source *fast*, make sure they don’t *have* the money to launch a propaganda campaign in their defence.

    • AlanIO says:

      It is absolute greed- a virus which Australians caught in the sixties. I recall the Vietnam Vets coming back and saying- “my kids are going to have everything, they are not going to put up with this(living within our means of course)”. Easy 3rd and 4th mortgages made the operation a fait accompli. AlanIO

      • ianl says:

        > “It is absolute greed- a virus which Australians caught in the sixties”

        Actually, it’s the corollary of greed. Envy. Spiteful envy at that.

        Nothing else fits more exactly to the lumpenprole resistance to flat tax rate concepts.

        As Ludwig von Mises pointed out:

        ” Capital levies and high income taxes on the larger incomes are extraordinarily popular with the masses, who do not have to pay them”

    • Eeyore says:

      Mr Newman was the reality check from pollies perspective?