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A Not So Plucky Swan

Wayne Swan has had a bad year so far and so has the government he is a part of. Just one and a half months into an election year, the Treasurer in the Gillard Government looked uncharacteristically flustered, utterly chastened in Question Time today, especially after another faux pas at the despatch box in the parliament.

This week Mr Swan has copped it from both sides of politics, after late last week revealing that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax has raised just $126 million so far which is just a fraction of the full-year estimate of $2 billion. The opposition has chided the Gillard’s man in Treasury for getting the numbers so wrong and now members of his own caucus are openly pushing for an amendment to the tax. There is no doubt that political damage has been suffered.

Polls show that the tax is popular, so if the government chose to amend the profits-based tax it is unlikely to result in the loss of any political skin. An ugly battle with the mining companies would eventuate though

The problem would not be so terrible had the figures just been ordinary. The political damage has been compounded because the MRRT was supposed to fund a number of initiatives proposed by the government. Now, that revenue has to come from elsewhere and there is just no money to be found in the budget.

The mining tax problem gave rise to claims of another possible tax problem, but the confusion and uncertainty appears to be all the making of a Treasurer stung by the last couple of weeks in politics. Asked if the government would increase the personal income tax rate, Swan initially refused to rule it out on breakfast radio and this provided more than enough fodder for the opposition. Later in the day, the matter was cleared up, but the verbal diarrhoea had already done its damage.

The Coalition should however tread very carefully around the matter of tax increases. Perhaps they should not even bring it  up. There is a tax on the cards unless the Coalition ditch their expensive paid parental leave scheme or radically amend it before the election.

But Wayne Swan’s day did not end there. In Question Time the Treasurer miscommunicated the unemployment rate, falsely stating that it was 5.1% when it is in fact standing at 5.4%.

Such a mistake is relatively common in politics. But when a simple error like that comes on top of a couples of weeks of political hell, a small problem is easily magnified. And he was not helped by the lethargic performance he gave in correcting the record. He was not his usual overly confident, often cocky self. He looked downtrodden.

There have been calls for Wayne Swan to resign. This will not happen and it should not happen. Neither a resignation or a sacking would help the situation for the government, which has already subjected the voting public to enough confusion in the six weeks or so since the start of the year. A new face in the Treasury portfolio would not make a difference.

Anything the government does wrong now just feeds into the narrative of a government in chaos, hurtling toward an electoral drubbing. The best thing that they can do is try to appear as stable as possible and that will be very difficult, nigh on impossible.

The Costings Fetish and What it May Mean

Australian politics is undoubtedly at a strange place. Since the 2010 election when Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Labor Government scraped into the power with the support of the Greens and three Independent MP’s, all the usual hostilities have ramped up. Some new battles have even been established too. Much of this can be put down to one simple factor and that is the vicinity of power to the two political leaders. The Labor Party are just holding onto power, only just and the Liberal and National Party coalition still look very close to taking power at the 2013 election despite narrowing poll margins.

Of all the interesting and at times absurd events fomented by the fragile state of play, one of the most interesting has been the growing desire and outward protestations from the ALP , particularly over recent weeks and months, for the Coalition to cost their policies and do so now.

There are always calls from incumbent governments, it is true, for opposition parties to release and cost their policies as early as possible. Why would governments not want to do that? Were that to occur, to be common practice, it would certainly help the reigning political party or coalition to construct a strategy to rip apart the figures.

It has come to light this week that a relatively unusual event has occurred in Australian politics. The Gillard Government, it was revealed, asked Treasury to cost three existing Coalition policies. That analysis found that those three policies would come at a cost of $4.57 billion to businesses in the first year of a Coalition Government from 2013.

As was mentioned before, governments seeking costings in a rather energetic way has always been a bit of a thing. But now it appears to have developed into a fetish. Rarely before have the calls been so relentless and so vocal. Again, that mostly goes down to the thirst for either maintaining or gaining power, a hunger that both sides of politics have at the present time.

Really though, it is completely stupid to be asking, to be demanding that opposition parties release their policies so far out from the election. If the budget state is uncertain and your party have announced, or have a well-entrenched focus on achieving a particular budget outcome, then it would be folly to release your costed policies so far out from the election.

It is almost without doubt that the Coalition will either drop outright or alter, either in part or dramatically, their existing policies. You could almost be sure that the paid parental leave scheme will be different to the existing policy. The rhetoric around that policy has shifted and talk about it from the Coalition is no longer a priority, almost to the point of no words being uttered willingly about the proposed scheme.

Not only that, but the Opposition would surely be considering a number of cuts to existing government programs. That’s a hallmark of Liberal administrations.

An interesting thought does come to mind when thinking about the reasons for the Gillard Government seeking and then leaking costings of Liberal Party policies.

The possibility of a March election has been raised in the last week or so in response to a rush on the part of the Labor Party to get legislation through the parliament before it rises for the Christmas break.

Of course, running up to an election, as a government, you might want to look like you are getting things done, even though to some, too much government is a very bad thing. Australians though, on the whole, while they hate their government, whatever the political complexion, they tend to want, or rely on its intervention.

And so the recent suggestion of the Coalition has some weight. An early poll probably will not eventuate, but the thought must not be discounted.

Really, the most likely reason for the politicisation of Treasury is the thirst for more political blood. Surely the Gillard Government is itching for more momentum, to capitalise on recent movements.

It is the job of the Coalition to release their final suite of policies close enough to the election to put them in the context of the fiscal position but far enough out from the polls so that the public get a good look.

Now is too far out, despite what the Labor Party and sections of the media will have you believe.

Not So Taxing Times

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax has commenced and it’s causing problems for the Gillard Government, including in particular, the Treasurer. What most people would not have expected is the way in which it is causing trouble for Wayne Swan. Instead of having to defend a huge tax grab, the Treasurer today was forced to respond to reports in newspaper The Australian that the MRRT failed to raise any revenue in it’s first quarter of operation. This is a circumstance few would have seen coming, though tumbling commodity prices should have provided somewhat of a warning to the pundits.

You see, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the renegotiated version of Kevin Rudd’s Resource Super Profits Tax was designed in an interesting way. Even though the name was changed, the new iteration was still a tax on profits. Therefore, when profits were high, the tax would be paid and when they were low, it would not.

Budget papers, released earlier this week in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook showed that the government believed the tax would still raise $2 billion this financial year.

A failure to clearly sell the way the tax works is the main reason that the response today was as it was. Too little time was spent saying that the tax would not raise revenue in bad times, but would in good times.

It is also a failure of design. If the ALP wanted to be sure of revenue then pegging the new tax to profits as they did was not the way to achieve a certain stream of revenue, especially one so easily impacted by poor commodity prices. To make matters worse, the new mining tax is not to prop up revenues with proceeds put away for future benefits. No, the tax revenue raised was to pay for promises made by Labor.

Clearly the turn of events this week, including the broader revenue shortfalls announced as part of MYEFO, make the prospects of returning to surplus extremely unlikely. Commodity prices for one would have to not just get back to where they were, but likely higher to make up for the time when the price was below expectations. Those prices could yet stay low for some time.

But the tough week, more accurately the tough day today did not end there for Mr Swan.

Speaking to reporters in Brisbane today, Treasurer Wayne Swan twice made a mistake when saying how much revenue the Minerals Resource Rent Tax would provide to the budget bottom line. Twice the Treasurer said that the tax would make $9 billion this financial year.

Actually, the resource rent tax is set to make $9 billion, not over the first year, but over the forward estimates, the next four financial years. It was a case of third time lucky for Mr Swan.

Ordinarily a simple gaffe like that does not mean much. It happens to politicians from time to time. However,for a Treasurer battling for a surplus and not having the numbers add up, it adds to a perception of confusion and uncertainty on the part of Wayne Swan and the Gillard Government.

The Opposition of course were crowing, enjoying a day where again, the Treasurer has been squirming over economic issues. But the celebration should also have been a tad on the difficult side for them too. The tax raised no revenue, so it was not doing the damage to the economy and businesses that the Coalition had warned about.

Federal Labor are seeing any remaining hope they had of returning the budget to surplus, which was delusional in the first place, evaporating before their very eyes.

But it is not the surplus the ALP should be most worried about the most. It is a worry, but the least of them. What they should be worried about the most is how much they might have to borrow to pay for the spending promises associated with this new tax of theirs.

The Stupid, the Strange and the Sensible in Search of a Surplus

The Gillard Government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, or MYEFO for the acronym loving political wonks, is now out. The record continues to struggle, a fact not lost on many, even the most casual of observers. After some time discussing personalities, yesterday the discourse turned to discussing economics and the economy, a welcome shift. Wayne Swan’s budget hopes were always, at the very least optimistic and at the most fanciful when he brought down in May what he believed was the first of four budget surpluses.

Revenue and tax receipts have continued to decimate the federal budget in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and as a result of the continuing shocks in Europe and the US in particular.

The May budget revealed a small budget surplus of $1.5 billion and that has already, in four months fallen by the wayside with the prediction of the final budget surplus downgraded to just $1.1 billion in the MYEFO update from Monday. Falling commodity prices and ongoing poor tax receipts were the chief factors blamed for the below expectation forecast.

Tax revenue over the forward estimates also points to an ongoing challenge for the budget, with expectations for the current financial year $4 billion down and over that entire period, down $22 billion.

Of course new spending will also be a major problem for the budget bottom-line and that still, despite improving poll numbers, seems like it will become the Coalition’s problem from 2013. But of course that will be tempered by widespread cuts in a variety of areas. This appears likely to include some areas of spending with bipartisan support, with rhetoric from the Opposition around the NDIS particularly troubling.

As there always is with budget cuts and payment increases, there has been much debate over the past 24 hours about the main measures employed by Treasurer Wayne Swan in an attempt to complete his budget mission. Overall, MYEFO revealed $16 billion in spending cuts and extra charges.

The main features of so-called ‘mini-budget’ were limits to the private health insurance rebate, increased visa application fees, changes to the baby bonus, a delay in funding for trades training centres and changes to how businesses pay tax.

In terms of political stupidity, cutting the Baby Bonus for a second and subsequent children wins the prize. The changes simply will not be widely liked and will quite easily be fed into the ongoing cost of living debate.

However, it is an entirely sensible decision economically to change the size of the payment made to families choosing to have more than one child. This payment is merely meant to assist with the initial costs of raising children and in no way makes a dent, nor should it, in the long-term costs of raising a child.

The government’s decision to dramatically increase the price of visa application fees, including the Working Holiday Visa, is one of the most ridiculous decisions taken in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Tourism is a very important part of our economy and has been hit by natural disasters in the north and more broadly by the GFC and continuing trouble in Europe and the US. Add the high dollar to the equation and the Gillard Government looks quite stupid in choosing to increase prices in this area.

Another odd decision for the Gillard Government to make is to delay funding for trades training centres. Delaying funding for their baby, replacing John Howard’s iteration, will look stupid to and hurt some of their constituency, at least in the short-term. The Labor Party making these cuts to their own program also effectively blunt their own attacks on the Liberal Party over cutting funding to this program.

The ALP has also, unsurprisingly, decided to give big business a bit of a whack, though this time, it’s not just the big miners, but businesses earning over a billion dollars in general. Changes to how companies pay tax, from quarterly to monthly installments will raise $8.3 billion dollars in revenue for the government. The overall effect on individual businesses is as yet unclear but the extra impost and timing of it will certainly have some effects.

Increases to the private health insurance rebate will now be limited to inflation. It is possible that some of those on low incomes who might choose to enter the private health insurance market at the lower end could be discouraged, though the punitive measures already in place will probably cut the chances of that down.

We have a bit of a mixed bag from a government in an almost vain search for a surplus. There have been some stupid decisions and there are some sensible ones in MYEFO. The sensible ones though, especially in the case of the baby bonus payment, will quite likely be seen by many as the exact opposite, dumb ones by the broader public. The unpredictability of some of the measures is also met with the predictability of others.

The only question left is will this budget update hold up to scrutiny? There will be attacks on and questioning of it and the Labor Government from various quarters. The political pain that will seemingly be felt still seems unlikely to be quelled by a surplus.

The Politics of Stupid Rules

It would appear that we are going to continue heading down the road out of Policy Town, hurtling toward Lameness and Hypocrisy City. The political car has been accelerating out of Policy Town for some time now. However, since the deplorable comments from Alan Jones about the Prime Minister’s father recently, the vehicle seems to have found some extra horsepower.

On Tuesday came that speech from Prime Minister Julia Gillard, now a worldwide sensation, accusing Tony Abbott of hypocrisy over the Coalition’s calls for the former Speaker Peter Slipper to be sacked over offensive text messages. Of course, just hours later, the embattled Speaker fell on his sword, resigning after what Rob Oakeshott claims was not an ultimatum, even though it sounded extraordinarily like one.

But it was the Alan Jones speech which established a precedent that the Labor Party said should be followed. That precedent said that when you are at a function of your own party as a parliamentary representative you must walk out when there is offensive remarks made. Failing that, you must at least interrupt the act or speech to register your disgust. Then you must at least condemn and ideally apologise on behalf of the party for the stupid remarks. Finally, you must accept responsibility for those remarks because they occurred at an event involving your party and because they happened at your party, everyone in it is responsible for them.

In the characteristic style of hypocritical politicians, some or all of the elements of that doctrine are bound to be broken from time to time. But it probably would have surprised many that in this particular case the rule was broken so quickly.

Last night, at a CFMEU function, senior Labor MP’s and Ministers in attendance, a comedian made offensive remarks about Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin.

The Prime Minister who was in attendance, had already left before the comedian began the act. Craig Emerson, another senior Labor Minister walked out once the offensive remarks were made. Unsurprisingly, Wayne Swan, due to make a speech after the comic finished his piece, no stranger to immaturity and bad judgement, remained behind. Not just that, but not until today did the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister say a thing about the remarks.

S0, the ALP member’s of parliament still in attendance failed elements of their own test. The CFMEU, as much as just about any number of unions, is a part of the Labor Party. Not only did all bar Craig Emerson fail to walk out, it is reported that an awkward silence fell upon the crowd, no annoyance was directed at the person up on stage.

Where the ALP member’s of parliament passed the test, just, was their condemnation of the remarks, albeit slow, given that they had chosen to take the moral high-ground in the first place. Yet the apology for the remarks was not as slow as the response of the Leader of the Opposition after the function at which Alan Jones spoke.

But did things really need to get this absurd? Certainly not. Aspects of the precedent invoked by the ALP are just utterly ridiculous. Sure, if someone makes utterly offensive remarks, condemnation of the hurtful words is a reasonable response, if only to calm the charged nature of politics. An apology is just a little silly. To walk out or register discontent mid-act? Again, reasonable, but it is completely arguable that it is not necessary. But to accept responsibility as an act of and on behalf of the party? That’s an entirely laughable concept dreamed up with absolutely no degree of rationality.

This would not be the first time that politicians have painted themselves into a corner. It will happen again.

Swan No Longer an Academic, Still Favours Lecturing

Wayne Swan has opened his mouth again. It seems that just about every time the federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister opens his mouth it’s more often than not to attack particular groups in the community and in politics. More often than not, this year it has been to attack the federal Coalition, but also state Liberal Governments around the country. There’s also been the small matter of a concerted campaign of verbal barbs from Mr Swan, aimed at the mining billionaires, not all billionaires, just those that dig stuff out of the ground. The latest words attacking people coming out of the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer’s mouth were aimed at certain members of the Republican Party of the United States.

These words, directed at certain Republican  representatives were a very weird, obscure and politically dumb foray into American domestic politics from a senior politician that should know better.

This isn’t the first time that a political representative from Australia has lectured a foreign power or its’ parliamentarians. Indeed, this isn’t the first time a Labor Minister has tried to tell the Republican Party how to do politics, Bob Carr has also done this recently. If you’re looking for an example of someone from the other side of politics something bad about foreign political parties and their figures, look no further than Prime Minister John Howard prior to the election of Barack Obama as US President.

Essentially, at the heart of the comments is economics and the US budget which is in terrible shape with debt about 15 times the size of the Australian economy.

In a speech to the Financial Services Council, Mr Swan said, “let’s be blunt, the biggest threat to the world’s biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over parts of the Republican Party.”

Basically, this was aimed at the Tea Party section of the Republican Party which exploded onto the scene with high political prospects, but failed to live up to electoral expectations. They also had little success in wresting a large number of Republican congressional and Senate seats which was expected of them. Their idea of small government even sees the majority of the Republican Party as champions of big government.

The state of the budget in the United States is in complete peril. Under both Republican and Democrat administrations, the debt has exploded, particularly since the presidency of Bill Clinton. This has been both through long, expensive wars and the subsequent costly foreign policy as well as in more recent times, increased social spending and a loss of revenue thanks to that large event, the GFC which still sees a large number of countries struggling financially.

The point is that both sides of the political fence in America will at present not be able to solve the huge problems that the US needs to deal with on the fiscal policy front. Neither side really has a solution to the debt and deficit problem and yes, it really is a problem there.

Yes, there are “cranks and crazies” in the Republican Party, that is undisputed, but there is a big difference between political extremists and working, in whatever way, toward eturning the fiscal position of the United States of America to a more sustainable position.

Wayne Swan if he was really being genuine and had to go off on a verbal rampage again, though still not wise for an outside power with a mutual political interest, he would have been best served in acknowledging that the American future isn’t particularly rosy whether there is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. Any solution, though that term is used rather loosely, would involve severe political and economic pain, it’s a matter of when the political leaders and the people decide is best to go through that pain, because really, it cannot be avoided.

Ideally, if Wayne Swan decided it was necessary to embark upon this not so diplomatic pathway, and he shouldn’t have in the first place in the way he did, it would have been best raised behind closed doors rather than for attention-grabbing headlines. Public lectures of foreign powers, no matter how strong our economic position, just look odd and arrogant, especially when it’s partisan attacks.

Channelling ‘The Boss’, But Still Bashing the Bosses, Well Some of Them

The rich person bashing seems to be coming in waves. First we had the phase of talking down the likes of Clive Palmer, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Gina Rinehart. This first particular episode of the politics of envy came from the moment Wayne Swan’s article in The Monthly made its way into the public eye.  The second wave, which we’ve been pre-emptively warned about will commence this evening with renewed attacks highlighted by the Treasurer as coming our way when he gives the annual John Button Lecture in Melbourne tonight.

Let’s be honest, it’s not about all billionaires and other extremely rich people, if it was Mr Swan would have targeted the likes of Frank Lowy, Kerry Packer, Harry Triguboff and others. He hasn’t, it’s all about the mining billionaires, the ones who’ve spoken out against the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. The others don’t even rate a mention. Does Swanny think that they pay enough tax? He clearly does, there’s no additional profit tax being proposed for them.

While we’re being honest, who wouldn’t complain about having to pay extra tax? Let’s face it, we’re all self-interested individuals, well most of us at least. I’m pretty sure that just about anyone, from the richest among us to the poorest among us would be uncomfortable having to pay extra tax. This is especially the case when the services provided with the money people already pay in tax aren’t exactly all glowing examples of efficiency and the smart use of money.

Is it really smart for the Treasurer of our nation to be publicly knocking someone for having an opinion? Why not knock the countless individuals that don’t want to pay more tax and in many cases want to pay less tax? We all know that happens too.

Let’s get serious again for a minute. Clive Palmer employs an estimated 3000 plus people across his businesses. Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest through his company Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) employs over 2000 people. Not only that, but Mr Forrest, through his Australian Employment Covenant has reached his target of finding 50,000 jobs for indigenous people a massive and very worthwhile initiative. Gina Rinehart, for her part employs and will seek to employ in the future a not insignificant number of people either.

Do we really want to bash Australians that create so many jobs? Do we really want to attack those at the head of companies which are involved in an industry which has played a major part in saving us from recession? Those who own companies in an industry that is currently still saving us from very poor economic results? I don’t think so.

Is Wayne Swan’s claim that these particular individuals are having too much of an influence on democracy actually true? Well actually no it isn’t. Pretty sure the Deputy Prime Minister has actually gone ahead with both the carbon tax and the mining tax despite the protestations which spawned the spending of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns against the two taxes.

The reality is they’re still going to pay them. That is, they’re still going to pay them until a Liberal Government takes power which you’d say is a dead certainty on the back of continued poor poll figures for the Labor Government. Yes, Clive Palmer is involved within the LNP in Queensland but at the same time I’m pretty sure a central tenet of liberalism is lower taxes and well isn’t that the result? Wouldn’t that play a part in making it easier to do business?

All this lunacy from a man that takes his inspiration from Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen. Springsteen is a guy who’s made millions of dollars from a music career in which some of his song bash the rich, all in the name of making himself feel better about his own substantial wealth, estimated at about $200 million. But hey, his music is brilliant.

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Thursday folks and that means, for those who get their political fix from watching the nightly news bulletins that it’s the last day of the week that you have to endure shouty and often silly grabs. It’s been a rather subdued week of Question Time from Canberra with the House of Representatives not seeing a single motion to suspending Standing Orders in the three days that have elapsed in this sitting week and that doesn’t look set to change today. It has however been a week full of one-off vitriolic comments and that is an immense shame. It has been a very predictable week in Australian politics again and that will almost certainly continue today to round out the week.

The Coalition have spent the first 3 days of Question Time this week focusing on the Roy Hill Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) and the reported consultation gaps (read complete lack thereof) between the Prime Minister and her Minister for Immigration. Aside from the nearing carbon price commencement on July 1st this issue has completely dominated political debate in the parliament since the decision was announced by the Immigration Minister last Friday at the National Press Club.

Things could change slightly today in Question Time in the wake of comments from the Prime Minister to a group of miners overnight which could precipitate a return to questions around the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

Of course, the other focus of the Coalition as it has been since the broken promise just after the 2010 election will be on the carbon tax which will be commencing in just over a month. It is entirely possible that this could become the main focus of tomorrow ahead of, or in place of the EMA debate which only has so much to give.

The Gillard Government will undoubtedly pursue the same two-pronged post-budget, pre-carbon price commencement Question Time strategy that has been used almost continuously since the budget was delivered on the 8th of May. This will mean most attention is drawn to selling the family and low income earner assistance that was delivered as part of the supposed surplus-returning fiscal statement delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan only three and a bit weeks ago. The questions as they have relentlessly, will focus around the education payments and the increased family tax benefits.

The other focus which has been essential for the Gillard Government in an attempt to claw back ground on the issue after losing it just after the election has been to highlight the overcompensation that many will receive after the carbon price commences in July. This means many questions about how the Household Assistance Package will help the electorates of those asking Dorothy Dixer’s to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Climate Change, the Minister for Family Services, Communities and Indigenous Affairs, Treasurer and perhaps other ministers.

Further, although minor in focus during Questions Without Notice and not guaranteed, the ALP Government backbenchers have asked their ministers about environmental issues and education, although the latter has largely been tied to the payments tied in with the budget.

So that’s likely to be Question Time for Thursday with only minor exceptions likely or the level of focus of each topic varying a little bit. After today we’re set for two weeks respite from the Canberrra theatre before two more weeks of parliament and then the long winter recess saves the day for those of us not too keen on the theatrical side of politics, especially when it ain’t no Shakespeare and isn’t funny enough to match the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The end of the parliamentary week is upon us and hasn’t it been an extraordinary one? The hostilities have persisted throughout the week, not letting up even in the days after the speech to parliament by the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson in relation to allegations of misuse of union funds. Indeed the week in Canberra is far from over though only a matter of hours remain in probably the biggest, most acrimonious week Australian politics has seen in a long while.

One more day of parliament for the week means another testy hour or so of Question Time ahead from 2pm this afternoon, perhaps even less if the now regular feature, the suspension of Standing Orders gets another run, which you’d have to say on the balance of probabilities is almost a sure bet.

The Coalition will almost certainly continue with their two-topic attack which has tended to be the way forward in Question Time for the Opposition for a very long time indeed. This strategy will see the Abb0tt-led Coalition almost certainly proceed full-steam ahead with questions surrounding the carbon price which with each day that passes nears its commencement date of July 1 this year.

The Coalition will also, despite moves this week to quell the matter, including allowing the referral of Craig Thomson to the Privileges Committee be likely to pose a not insubstantial number of Craig Thomson related questions to the Gillard Government. It is also incredibly likely that despite the Thomson matter being referred to the Privileges Committee that a further suspension of Standing Orders related to the matter (and it has been the subject of a few) will occur.

The ALP Government’s Question Time strategy is completely predictable too and has been regularly based around the same broad topic, albeit in different guises also over a significant period of time.

The overwhelming focus of the Gillard Government in Question Time has been the state of the economy, both in domestic and internationally comparative terms and that has been outlined and worked on over many months.

The current specific focus in relation to the economy is all about the budget and the spending associated with it that Labor says will assist low to middle income earners  and their families particularly with the cost of education through the taxes reaped from the mining boom.

The government in also prosecuting a projected return to surplus of the budget that Wayne Swan handed down just over two short weeks ago amid what almost equated to  acceptance that the government had already returned the budget to surplus when it has not in fact done so and will not in fact do so until the end of fiscal year 2012-13 on June 30 next year and we may not know for sure until even later than that.

There is also a very real possibility, with unforeseen spending requirements and further revenue write-downs among other factors that the idea of a $1.5 billion surplus a bit of a struggle.

Question Time as always begins at 2pm and promises to be a heated contest that will offer no respite until about 3:10pm when the Prime Minister will ask that “further questions be placed on the notice paper”, unless of course the suspension of Standing Orders has brought questions to an earlier close.

Budget 2012-13: The Purported State of Affairs

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.

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