Finally that one night of the year where the government of the day outlines the broad priorities (and not so much priorities) to be focused on in the coming fiscal year has come and gone. It has been an extraordinary period leading up to and including the budget with leaks and announcements far outstripping those of previous years, probably down to the fact that the government, so badly suffering in the polls needs as much clear air and momentum as they can get, if only to simply keep treading water.
So what is the state of play with some of the projections on the state of the budget for 2012-13 and beyond?
Well, the Gillard Government, through Treasurer Wayne Swan announced this that after year after year of deficits the fiscal year ahead would see a surplus achieved of $1.5 billion according to their word anyway. Not only that, but according to projections, the next 3 budgets after that would also be in surplus, with the leftover funds growing year by year over that period.
The budget papers announced that over $33 billion would be cut from the budget to make way for the very slim $1.5 billion dollar surplus with defence spending a massive loser, being cut by approximately $5.5 billion
For all the fuss over the cuts and deferrals of spending announced in the fiscal statement, there was also a number of new announcements outlined in the papers, not least of which includes a $3.2 billion package for aged care and $1 billion over four years for the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the latter a much talked about but until now lacking in detail initiative.
But alas the exercise tonight for the Gillard Government was more about political ends and achieving a budget surplus in an attempt to regain at least some political favour. Journalists tonight by and large certainly seemed more than willing to assist the Labor Party in their quest to be widely celebrated for the budget, with many consistently referring to the budget, which won’t see its final results until mid next year at the earliest, constantly referring to the budget actually being back in surplus when that is so far from certain.
Indeed, with a wafer thin surplus of only $1.5 billion and with still uncertain global conditions and the possibility of future domestic shocks, not to mention new and necessary spending requirements, the idea that the budget would even be in surplus when the time comes is at best incredibly iffy.
The budget has been and will be viewed as a win for many low and middle income earners, with the odd exception mixed in and a loss and letdown for business who had hoped for and expected much more from the government given the rhetoric.
The big sell begins now. The Government have certainly tried to buy back some votes, but it seems incredibly unlikely that the budget will be a game-changer when the players are not even listening anymore and have stopped participating in some cases.
It’s that special day that comes around but once a year. It’s that day when the Treasurer strides to the despatch to spend a good amount of time outlining the budget priorities for the fiscal year ahead, what will be key priorities and what will be the focus of cuts. Undoubtedly too, in times like these deferrals also form a part of the budget.
Question Time and the House of Representative sitting itself today will be the first one out of the chair for Peter Slipper since taking the role while investigations continue into claims of misuse of Cabcharge and sexual harassment are investigated. This puts ALP MP for Chisholm and Deputy Speaker Anna Burke in the chair for Question Time and the all important budget address and could see fiery exchanges if the last time Ms Burke was in the chair for a brief period in Question Time is anything to go by.
The Coalition will quite likely not be focusing entirely on the budget in this sitting of Question Time, commencing just five and a half hours before the budget is delivered from the House of Representatives at 7:30pm. Aside from the budget and the new spending, cuts and budget tricks, the Coalition will still likely ask questions on the carbon tax, maybe the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and perhaps even Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper investigations, the latter of which reached a head yesterday with a Fair Work Australia report yesterday naming him hundreds of times in relation to alleged wrongdoing of a civil nature.
The Gillard Government will likely focus all of their efforts in Question Time through the Dorothy Dixer on key aspects of the budget that they believe will be items which have electoral benefits for them. To this end, questions from their own side will likely focus on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the aged care reforms and the cash handouts for education.The government will also likely focus on the fact that they are trying to return the budget to surplus for financial year 2012-13.
Question Time as always begins from 2pm and can be caught on your television, radio or computer.
It is a regular feature of Australian politics that in the days and weeks leading up to the delivery of the budget by the Treasurer of the day budget leaks and rumour generally abound from the Australian political centre that is Canberra. This year however, announcements of budget items seem to have outdone the whisperings about possible spending allocations and cuts that followers of politics are used to leading up to that Tuesday in May when the Treasurer steps up to the despatch box to inform the country of their governments fiscal priorities.
There has been, for some days now a rumour abounding in Canberra and fuelled by the heightened interest of politicians in ensuring it does not occur, that the Gillard Government is set to announce cuts to the foreign aid budget.
This follows a promise by Labor, under former Prime Minister, now humble backbencher, Kevin Rudd that the Labor Government he once led, would increase foreign aid spending to a total of 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) by financial year 2015-16.
The belief around Canberra and the aid sector seems to be that the government are set to scrap their commitment to head toward spending on foreign aid of 0.5% of GNI.
The rumour mill surrounding this has almost exploded from being overworked and it would appear, with the strength of the political backlash to the simple report of this possible move that there has to be a real element of truth in it, without any real details having been leaked on the matter. So this item, almost alone in specific and credible rumours will be one to keep an ear out for confirmation of or otherwise from 7:30pm next Tuesday, May 8th.
But for this one real virulent rumour there have been more confirmations of and half announcements of both cuts and new spending to be allocated in what the Labor Government hopes will be a budget that returns to surplus in 2012-13.
Aged care is set to be overhauled in the 2012-13 budget to be delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan on Tuesday. Back in April it was announced that the government would commence, on the 1st of July 2012 a ten year plan costing $3.7 billion to transform the way aged care is delivered, allowing more people to seek care in their own homes and making the cost of aged care homes easier to bear for the most financially vulnerable.
The Australian Government, via Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday at the NDIS rally in Sydney half announced that there would be an allocation of funds toward starting the National Disability Insurance Scheme a year earlier, commencing at 4 different launch sites from July next year.
But it was only a partial announcement from the PM, albeit a very welcome development for Australian’s with a serious and permanent disability and their families and carers. Prime Minister Gillard announced that next year these 4 launch sites would assist an initial 10,000 Australians with a disability and double the next year to provide help to another 10,000 people.
What this announcement lacked was detail, including most importantly, the estimated cost of the program rollout, but also what parts of Australia would be given the opportunity to be covered by the Medicare-like framework. The PM said we must wait until the budget for the details, a real tease, if not a hope building one in this important area of government policy.
In a budget where the expectations were for savage spending cuts, a new spending initiative is a very interesting element in the budgetary discussion which is ramping up five days from its announcement.
Today too, the government have announced $214 million toward the planning of 12 new submarines to replace the Collins Class fleet which had their troubles, particularly in the initial stages of development and operation.
Again though, for these not insignificant spending allocations, the Labor Party have also flagged ahead of May 8, areas where they will seek to slash or defer public spending.
The government today also announced in the area of defence spending that there will be both cuts and the deferral of spending in the area of purchasing defence materiel.
It was announced today that the planned requisition of self-propelled artillery will be scrapped altogether and this alone would save the budget bottom line a total of $250 million dollars.
The trouble-plagued delivery of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be delayed two years from the previously expected date of receipt, moving our acquisition of this defence capability into line with that of the US. In doing this $1.6 billion will be saved from the budget from this measure by itself.
In announcing the cuts to defence spending, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith assured Australia that defence cuts would not impinge on or include cuts to spending related to our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas.
The leaks and rumour mill have been almost non-existent over the budget-planning period and look set to remain minimal with only three full working days left before the final announcement of spending priorities occurs in Canberra. This could be put down to the poll woes that have faced the government for a prolonged period of time, trying to get some messages out early to cloud what is supposed to be a difficult budget, according to the warnings repeatedly given, no matter how unbelievable.
Nevertheless it has been an interesting exercise to observe the seemingly comparative lack of rumours as we hurtle toward the 2012-13 budget.