The language used in response to budget announcements is always instructive.
The government's release yesterday of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was met with the usual cries of 'slugging' business and 'slashing' family payments (the baby bonus and health insurance rebate), but a greater preponderance of 'juggles', 'shuffles' and 'fiddles'.
Wayne Swan pulled some very neat accounting tricks out of the bag, and it is mainly these – rather than any substantial spending cuts or revenue increases – that have allowed the government to maintain the impression it will deliver a slim surplus.
Most commentators and economists question whether the surplus is actually deliverable (or desirable) under current economic circumstances; and, as Phil Coorey notes, the government appears to be preparing for this – note Swan and Wong's talk of deteriorating economic conditions and 'getting the budget settings right', rather than promising anything.
But, for better or worse, the government has given itself until the next federal budget in May to address Australia's long-term budget problems. That's a long time in politics.
Nick Feik Politicoz Editor
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"The overriding goal of this budget update is to ensure that the accounts for 2012-13 end up in surplus. That is not because the economy requires it – take out mining investment and the rest of the economy is anaemic – but because Labor pledged to deliver a surplus, and the Liberals have used their rhetoric to make it the test of Labor's ability to manage the economy."
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