A budget of demountables
A fistful of measures that solve current problems but can be taken away.
When there’s a sudden influx of children, schools end up with prefab instant classrooms called demountables because they can be picked up and taken elsewhere.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivered a budget full of demountables last night, with measures that solve current problems but which can be taken away.
• 22 cents per litre cut in fuel excise (tax) for six months.
• A one-off $250 payment to many welfare recipients.
• Low and middle-income earners will receive an extra $420 back on their tax returns, but it’s temporary, according to the Treasurer.
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To be fair, there is some bricks-and-mortar work too.
• NDIS funding is maintained, cementing that epochal reform into the Australian landscape.
• A further 50,000 places in the first home buyers scheme allowing people to buy on a 5 per cent deposit.
• Significant boost for apprentices: $5000 for new apprentices. $15,000 subsidy for their employers.
For a budget with a $78 billion deficit, it might seem odd to have some commentators such as The Australian‘s Paul Kelly describe it as a “balanced budget.”
“This budget gives the government a fighting political chance without any retreat into fiscal recklessness”, Kelly writes this morning.
It’s a clever budget. There are enough sweeteners to give the Morrison government a fighting chance in the May election but not so many to create a fiscal disaster if they get back.
There are enough sweeteners to give the Morrison government a fighting chance in the May election but not so many to create a fiscal disaster if they get back.
Lest anyone think this writer is being cynical, the message being pushed by Frydenberg and Morrison post-budget is “vote for us.”
The budget is optimistic – the fuel tax lasts only six months on the assumption that fuel prices will drop. Encouraging new home buyers assumes that price inflation will ease.
The real question is whether the budget catches the nation’s mood – whether we want demountables to shelter us in a time of emergencies.
And it sets up the question of what Labor will offer – demountables or a more ambitious program? The Labor team also has to work out how to balance fiscal responsibility with social change.
South Australia is my home state, so it is natural for me to see its recent state election as prefiguring the federal poll. This premonition might be too easy. Whether the opinion poll swing favours Labor overall or in certain key seats will have the political professionals busy over the next few weeks.
In any case, this budget only makes sense when viewed as an election budget. The economic purists in the Liberal Party must be locked in the basement of party HQ. But politics, as they say, is the art of the possible. Josh Frydenberg has managed a difficult balancing act. Over to you, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers.
Sometimes demountable classrooms stay in a school playground for decades. The sweeteners in the budget are unlikely to be removed by Labor, so the trucks are not coming for these demountables in the next few weeks.