The treasurer risks putting his surplus first, people second
As Australia’s economy falters, the government’s fiscal heart is hardening, not softening. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s determination to deliver his much-vaunted budget surplus for 2019–20 and retain Australia’s AAA credit rating – which is hardly in danger – is of a piece with junior minister Luke Howarth telling the homeless to look on the bright side. In prospect is more of the same punishing austerity towards anyone doing it tough; it’s the flipside of celebrating those who aspire and get ahead, and who are rewarded with taxpayer largesse through subsidies and tax loopholes. Last week’s $158 billion tax-cut package is going to accelerate the trend to an increasingly unequal Australia, which has resulted from the Coalition’s agenda since it was elected in 2013. As former treasurer Joe Hockey said when defending his first budget, the worst-received in living memory: “Governments have never been able to achieve equality of outcomes … It is not the role of government to use the taxation and welfare system as a tool to ‘level the playing field’”.
Flanked by his assistant minister, Michael Sukkar, and the tax commissioner, Chris Jordan, Frydenberg today announced [$] that more than 810,000 Australians had already filed their 2018–19 tax returns and could be receiving their rebates of up to $1080 by the weekend. But, resisting calls from the Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, he stressed that there would be no further stimulus, citing the “non-negotiable” imperative of reaching a budget surplus this year, and saying that the government would be focused on reducing debt.
Frydenberg said the previous Coalition government had helped the country avoid recession in 2008: “It’s important to understand that if it wasn’t for the Howard–Costello government’s success in paying down Labor’s debt, Australia wouldn’t have had the flexibility to spend through that economic downturn when it hit in the GFC.” Then he took a crack at shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, tweeting: “In case you missed it @JEChalmers we passed $158b in tax cuts that you tried to stop. A big win for taxpayers. And just yesterday without consulting Shadow Cabinet @AlboMP said he had dropped your retiree & housing taxes which you were the co-architect of. #ALPshambles.”
Doing the same thing over and over while hoping for a different result is clearly not working. Today’s NAB business confidence survey showed that the post-election bounce has been short-lived, and the first of the RBA’s two recent rate cuts has failed to improve conditions. A small uptick in employment growth is positive, but NAB’s chief economist, Alan Oster, says the overall decrease in business conditions has been “relatively broad-based across states and industries – suggesting that there has been sector-wide loss of momentum over the past year”. The share market is jumpy, selling off sharply today as APRA, in a sign of nervousness, lowered its capital requirements for banks, and bond markets are reportedly “screaming economic downturn”.
Jim Chalmers hit back at a doorstop in Brisbane today: “Josh Frydenberg will find any excuse to do nothing about the economy, which is floundering on his watch. He is kidding himself if he thinks that this economy will fix itself when we have a government which spends all of its time focused on Labor, pointing the finger at the states, doing nothing about the fact that we do have weak wages and slowing growth and weak consumption and weak productivity growth right across the board. Josh Frydenberg is a do-nothing treasurer and he hopes that things will just fix themselves.”
The other possibility is that Frydenberg thinks things are just fine as they are.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone responds to revelations that NIB and Bupa have repeatedly failed in their legal obligations to appoint doctors before rejecting claims on pre-existing condition grounds.
“Reckless and ill-informed reporting such as that aired last night, that picks and chooses facts, has the potential to be incredibly damaging for not only farmers, but communities and the environment. Not to mention doing a disservice to the intelligence of Australians, who expect informed and balanced reporting from what used to be one of our nation’s flagship investigative news programs.”
“The claims remain uninvestigated, severely undermining public confidence in the live exports branch of the Department of Agriculture. I believe that an Auditor-General’s investigation is required to assess the performance systems and integrity of the live exports branch.”
“Nothing unites the normally irreconcilable sections of society like sport does. But tonight imperils this unity. Usually nobody blinks an eyelid when players don’t sing the national anthem. At this game, however, black athletes have given their silence a motive, led by the example of Indigenous All Stars captain Cody Walker, a 29-year-old late bloomer on debut for the Blues.”
“A noteworthy aspect of Christopher Pyne’s quarter-century in federal parliament was his occasional tendency towards heedless candour. But even by his own standards, his initial statement about his post-politics employment seemed remarkably oblivious to the fuss it would cause ... He’s been trying to walk it back ever since.”
“The Coorong has long been recognised as the barometer of the health of the Murray–Darling. As the damning Murray–Darling Basin Royal Commission into the system’s management recently observed, en route to excoriating authorities for maladministration, negligence and ignoring catastrophic risks of climate change, ‘it is a generally accepted truism that a river dies from the mouth’.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
As Australia’s economy falters, the government’s fiscal heart is hardening, not softening. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s determination to deliver his much-vaunted budget surplus for 2019–20 and retain Australia’s AAA credit rating – which is hardly in danger – is of a piece with junior minister Luke Howarth telling the homeless to look on the bright side. In prospect is more of the same punishing austerity towards anyone doing it tough; it’s the flipside of celebrating those who aspire and get ahead, and who are rewarded with taxpayer largesse through subsidies and tax loopholes. Last week’s $158 billion tax-cut package is going to accelerate the trend to an increasingly unequal Australia, which has resulted from the Coalition’s agenda since it was elected in 2013. As former...