Australia’s most over-analysed Budget

over-analysed-budget

Image: Wilfried Wende – Pixabay.com

We’d been out to dinner on Budget night, so turning on the TV later, I caught the last comment from Lee Sales: “That completes our first hour of this special Budget coverage.”

Budget analysis is a challenging topic for extended television viewing. The ABC borrowed David Speers from Insiders (wearing a blue suit and maroon socks), who took over to talk to a bank of television sets, splitting this up with breath-taking interludes (“Crossing now to Canberra for insights from…”).

It continued on Wednesday morning, while having my first coffee of the day with ABC Breakfast. Good television needs live action images and variety. I was bemused by the vox pops segment when a reporter went into the streets of Parramatta to interview everyday people. It was surely accidental than in the background a homeless person strayed into view, trundling a supermarket trolley, laden with the detritus of life on the streets. As Ralph McTell once famously sang:

She’s no time for talking, she just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home, in two carrier bags…”

Such was the need for live footage, we had to endure repeated scenes of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg walking across a forecourt, huge umbrellas clashing in the wind as they sheltered from the rain. Around them, photographers, reporters and camera operators were likely making memos on their phones to claim laundry expenses. The pair stopped briefly and touched elbows (photo op) before going inside, leaving the media pack to pat dry their hair with tissues and soggy hankies.

Also in the live footage were scenes of Budget papers rolling off a printing press and being stacked in boxes.

Given that anybody with an internet connection can download the entire set of Budget papers at no cost, the printing of thousands of hard copies does seem like over-kill.

I asked a Treasury official: “How many copies were printed and what is the total cost?”

OFFICIAL

 

Hi Bob

 

Thanks for your enquiry.

 

We do not yet have final costs.

 

Media Unit -The Treasury

 

Now you see why journalists spend much of their time cultivating contacts who can find out stuff not yet made official.

Clearly I do not have such contacts (any more) but point you instead to this story, about the Canadian Government’s printing contract in 2017.

Despite a widespread move to the paperless bureaucracy, Finance Canada had committed more than $500,000 to print Budget documents. Opposition members were not impressed.

In 2015, I discovered a Choice Magazine survey of consumers’ household budget worries. At the time, rising electricity costs was the main preoccupation and it is still in the top three. The policy thrust by the Morrison government in 2020 is to push liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an energy alternative.

Although the solar panels on our roof cost around $7,000 to install, our power bills for the calender year so far total $33 and we are now in credit.

Those who made an investment in solar panels in 2015 would be enjoying similarly small power bills, more attractive feed-in tariffs and, five years on, closer to breaking-even on the capital cost of installation. Just saying.

The annual Choice householder survey update in June found that private insurance had replaced energy costs as the number one worry. Some 81% were concerned about the costs of health insurance – up from 75% 12 months ago.

Even in May 2019, long before COVID-19 disrupted the economy, Choice said 65% of people were “barely squeaking by” in terms of household finances.

The June 2020 survey found that private health insurance, fuel and electricity are the main worrying items for households, one in four of which are struggling to make ends meet.

A report from APRA shows a continuing trend for young people (20-49) to ditch private hospital cover because of premium costs.

A one-page item in Tuesday’s Budget will mean a lot to young people, families and people with disabilities. The Government has increased the age at which dependent children can be covered under a family PHI policy. From 1 April 2021, the Government will increase the maximum age of dependants for private health insurance policies from 24 to 31 and remove the age limit for dependants with a disability.

The aim is to encourage young people to continue with PHI when they reach the age of 31 (the age at which premiums for Lifetime Health Cover starts, if the customer has not had private health insurance prior to that date).

Locked up with Laurie, Kerry, Laura and the rest

Labor PM and Treasurer Paul Keating is credited with introducing both the budget ‘lockup’ and Budget night’s televised speech in 1984. I have worked on several Budget lockups over the years. Journalists from all over the country congregate in a (large) locked room within Parliament House.

At 2pm, Treasury officials distribute Budget documents to scribes, who then have time to analyse the key points and prepare stories for the next day’s edition (and post-Budget analysis for TV and radio). Scribes keep on filing updates until their publication deadlines and then adjourn to the bar or a late-night restaurant.

The real Budget stories often surface weeks after the documents have been made public. Business scribes in particular enjoy input from sources in the accounting profession: “Cracker yarn there, Bobby, Budget Paper 4 page 97, 7.1”.

As members of Australia’s rapidly ageing over-70s cohort, we were mild amused to find we are yet again to be stimulated by ScoMo. We were already the recipients of two payments of $750 (each) and now are to receive $250 in December and again in March 2021.

Crivens”, as my Dad would say (informal Scottish dialect for an expression of surprise).

This money has already been earmarked for the little luxuries one struggles to find within the constraints of a fixed income budget. In my case that may well be a year’s supply of guitar strings, a new set of harmonicas and an ocarina (don’t ask). It may be wiser to put both payments towards a return flight to NZ to visit whanua, when allowed to do so.

As usual, individuals will scrutinise only the parts of the Budget that directly affect them: welfare payments, tax cuts, low-income tax offsets, Job Maker etc.

But if, as the Choice survey highlighted, 65% of households are ‘barely squeaking by’, I can’t see the government’s wage subsidy plan will do much to alleviate those concerns. The Job Maker scheme offers employers $200 a week for every under-30 worker they employ (minimum 20 hours a week). It will also pay $100 a week for employees aged 30-35. The government says this will create 450,00 jobs, whereas Labor says 968,000 unemployed people over 35 will miss out completely.

It remains to be seen if this wage subsidy scheme will be rorted by employers, as has happened with such initiatives over the years. The usual outcome of such incentives is that employers sack people hired under the subsidy scheme once it lapses. (Not to mention the possibility that over 35s will find themselves out of a job that has then been offered to a worker who attracts a subsidy. Ed)

But hey, I’ve already received $1500 and now promised $500 more from ScoMo for doing sweet bugger all. So I should shut up now, eh?

 

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