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Seeking a fair go on budget night

  • 07 May 2017


On Tuesday evening, Treasurer Scott Morrison will deliver the first Budget of the narrowly re-elected Turnbull Coalition government.

Part of the cost of the double dissolution election last July has been the creation of a Senate with the largest, most diverse group of crossbenchers ever to sit on the red benches. This will make the passage of any new Budget contested measures difficult, particularly given the Prime Minister's vulnerability on his right flank, and the Labor Party's propensity to mimic the Opposition tactics adopted previously by Tony Abbott.

The government needs to create a clear narrative as to how it will achieve equitable and sustainable growth through this Budget. Writing in The Monthly on 'The rise and stall of Malcolm Turnbull', Laura Tingle observes: 'While budgets don't have the punching power they once had to change the political narrative, this year's looms as a crucial opportunity for the prime minister and his government to make people take a second look at them.'

The federal Budget is not merely an economic statement. It is a social compact. It declares the government's priorities and displays its vision for Australia. Or at least, it should.

We have never taxed as highly as the Scandinavians. Neither have we provided the same comprehensive suite of social services and hole-proof social welfare net as them. Nor have we taxed as lowly as the Americans. We have never relied so heavily as have the Americans on private philanthropy to meet the needs of the homeless on the streets.

The strain on our health, education and social services is now showing. But there is no appetite in the major political parties for increased taxation. So, increased services in one sector need to be matched by savings in another. Submarines don't come free.

Part of this government's vision includes 'budget repair', 'jobs and growth' accompanied by corporate tax cuts, more affordable housing, a 'priority investment approach' to welfare reform, and a new model for education funding: 'Gonski 2.0'.

However, the vision has been clouded by failures in community consultation, mixed messages in the 24/7 media cycle, and the complexity of compromises which need to be cut with Senate crossbenchers holding a variety of philosophies and agendas.


"Those issues will be seen to be properly weighted only after real consultation with all players. Government cannot just deliver the right answer with a media statement."


The latest instance is last week's announcement of the school funding changes. No matter what