Is there a more magical time of year than budget time? When the whole country works itself into a fever of excitement waiting to hear what bold new direction it is about to be violently thrust in, and our political superiors gather to decide just how best to ensure that everyone, from the lowliest of disability pensioners to the mightiest of mining moguls, can share in the prosperity of our great nation. Not equally, obviously — we don’t want to reward sloth.
But in the redistribution of wealth, there is something for everyone, whether it be money, educational opportunities, or the simple satisfaction of self-sufficiency. It is a marvellous time of year for all. For our politicians, who experience the giddy progressive thrill of using their privileged positions at the head of the mighty ship of state to make slight, inconsequential adjustments to the status quo. For political and economic journalists, who get to relax and take a break from journalistic work for a little while as they simply resubmit their budget commentaries from last year where they claimed the Government "didn’t go far enough".
And most importantly, for the great Australian public, who are reminded every budget that they have a part to play in making this great democratic experiment work and that they must all do their bit to create a better world, and with this in mind leap into action to flood the newspaper letter pages with noble expressions of civic spirit along the lines of "Dear Sir, Given that I am a law-abiding taxpayer with a highly paid job, my own house and an extremely large car, I want to know why the federal budget has made no provision for giving me lots of free money, considering how much of my hard-earned taxes are being squandered on providing high-grade heroin for unemployed paedophiles. Is this political correctness gone mad? Name and address supplied."
The main issue that rears its head at budget time is the question of who the winners and losers are. Obviously, in a way, we’re all winners, just because we get to share in the experience of a federal budget and enjoy the fruits of modern economics. But in another way, of course, we are very much divided into those for whom the budget comes as a blessed gift to ease the intolerable burden of our day-to-day lives, and those for whom the budget is likely to prove the final catalyst for descent into full-blown suicidal melancholy.
How to tell which camp you fall into? Fortunately I am selfless enough to explain the niceties.
First of all, if you are a pensioner, you are a winner, and this must surely be the first time it has ever been possible to write that sentence. Pensioners have been granted a whopping $32.50 per week increase in their stipend, and although, being pensioners, they will undoubtedly react with stunning ingratitude to this, there is no doubt that the Rudd Government has set a new benchmark in giving old people a sporting chance at getting slightly older. For many pensioners, $32.50 is the difference between a painful death by starvation, and a comfortable life of simple malnutrition. Of course, some will complain that it’s not enough — it’s amazing how living through the Depression will create a sense of entitlement — but pensioners can definitely count themselves among the lucky ones.
For a start, they should be thankful they’re not stay-at-home mums, who have been struck a terrible blow with the news that they will be denied the Government’s new paid maternity leave scheme, forcing them to survive only on what they had in the first place plus the baby bonus, without the vital support of paid leave from the job they never had. Hard times indeed for traditional mothers trying to fight the growing tide of militant feminism.
Of course, it’s not all high times and gourmet catfood for the elderly. They’ll have to wait an extra two years before going on the pension, which will no doubt be an enormous strain on their capacity to stop whining. Fortunately, this change won’t come in until 2023, by which time the Chinese will have invaded and put us all to work in uranium mines, so we’ll have bigger things to worry about.
Other losers from this budget include self-funded retirees, after the cutting back of the tax-deductible contribution limit, which is a shame inasmuch as it could discourage saving for retirement, but on the other hand is hilarious inasmuch as it upsets self-funded retirees.
Then of course, there are infertile women, who will do it tougher under new Medicare Safety Net caps on IVF treatments; although to be honest this just seems like the Government reinforcing God’s opinion of them. Whether it’s Budget provisions, or the leadership of major political parties, barren women always come off second best.
But beyond the simple and enjoyable labelling of winners and losers, there is a more fundamental economic question to be addressed: that of deficits. As we all know by now unless we have recently lapsed into a coma, Wayne Swan’s second budget has plunged Australia into a record deficit of $58 billion, something that has the Liberals absolutely apoplectic with righteous fiscal indignation, with Malcolm Turnbull already raging mightily against the Government’s irresponsibility in accumulating a debt almost equivalent to the contents of his tracksuit pants.
Of course, that amount of money is hard to comprehend for the average person, but it can help to consider it in more domestic terms. If you imagine that you have a mortgage of, say, $300,000, and an annual income of $80,000, then the current Budget situation is roughly equivalent to having Wayne Swan break into your house and rape your children.
The Opposition is at pains to remind us that this deficit has burdened us, and future generations, with the paying off of the debt, due to an unfortunate clause in the constitution that states that budget deficits must be paid off by bank cheque or money order by the citizens of the country in question. I’m sure you recall the dark days of the 1990s, when the deficit amassed by Paul Keating’s psychotic lust for glory forced us all to go to the Post Office every week. The death toll from the queues alone was horrific. Yet this is what once more awaits us, and the question is: is it worth it?
Is it worth it for a few quick stimulus payments, a higher pension, a dedicated children’s channel? Is it worth consigning the entire country to a never-ending debt-paying nightmare, selling our kidneys and prostituting our children to keep the wolves from the door, just so that we can have some flashy new infrastructure and superfast porn downloads? Is it worth suffering more newspaper columns by Peter Costello about his economic record? Is today’s wild Rudd-orgy worth the lifetime of emptiness and shame that will surely follow, once the bills come due and we realise that Wayne Swan has packed the economy in a briefcase and absconded to the Maldives? IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?
It’s easy to fall for the Government’s promise that it is, distracted by their slick spin and Wayne Swan’s dangerously persuasive charisma. But in the end we all must take a long, hard objective look at the facts and make up our own minds as to the pros and cons of this budget. Only then, utilising the innate wisdom and earthy commonsense peculiar to the rugged Australian populace, can we come calmly and thoughtfully to the reasoned conclusion that the budget is really, really boring and we should all get back to worrying about boatpeople.
The deficit’s probably their fault anyway.
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