Puppies Rainbows and Free Money

Why Wayne Swan has the crappiest job in Australia

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Like any good political and public policy enthusiast, I spent much of Tuesday night glued to my television for the announcement of the 2013 Budget and subsequent analysis from a whole host of wonks.

Similarly, like any good generation Y tech geek, I did so in tandem with a scanning of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. What struck me immediately wasn’t the seemingly equal split of public opinion on the slashing of the Baby Bonus, but the degree to which every Tom, Dick and Harry became an economic expert.

If you were watching Wayne Swan hand down his Budget last night, which opinion polls strongly indicate will almost certainly be his last, you probably heard an air of disappointment tinged with sadness in his voice. I certainly did.

I don’t think he’s disappointed about the lack of a surplus this year, although I’m sure it frustrates him. Revenue is down significantly on what was forecast. I dare say he’s not too sad about the deficit, although it’s politically inconvenient. Instead, I suspect he might’ve felt glum knowing that his carefully crafted ream of paper that outlines the balance sheet and current and future spending would be torn to pieces by the Australian people.

Monash University’s Professor Greg Bamber yesterday described the Budget as “legacy building”, characterised by the once-in-a-generation social policy Disability Care. In addition, you’ve got major education funding reform and a significant chunk of new change for infrastructure projects across the country.

And yet, those listening on the fringes and not truly engaged in the finer details probably didn’t blink at that. They’d be more concerned about debt, the disappearance of the Baby Bonus, a higher Medicare Levy and a modest grab for cash from those with flush superannuation funds.

That’s fair enough. We’ve all got our own priorities. It just seems those priorities are far more important to us, individually, than a long-term platform for the collective.

There was money in Tuesday night’s Budget for employment services, workplace relations, cancer treatment, debt assistance for farms, roads and rail, technology, the environment and more.

However, given the political importance of a balanced budget and a surplus, there were many areas that were neglected. Programs were cut, spending was downsized, housing got little attention, defence spending was lowered, tertiary scholarships were turned into loan programs and tax levies were lifted.

I’m not interested in passionately defending the government’s credibility on economic management – many have already done that and many more have attacked it. I’m also torn on that issue. On one hand, we were led through the GFC with relative ease and wound up the envy of the world. On the other, there was waste and shameful incompetence with programs like the insulation rollout and Building the Education Revolution.

I just couldn’t help feel a bit sorry for Wayne Swan last night. He’s outlining how the government proposes to pay for some of the biggest reform packages in the modern era. He’s pointing to his plan, believable or not, to get the balance sheet back in the black. He’s explaining with vain how the country’s fiscal position isn’t entirely his fault – a high Australian dollar, revised economic growth projections and shrinking revenue.

In essence, he’s justifying why in his view it’s worth paying a little more and foregoing a surplus in order to get a whole lot.

Unfortunately for him, few care and even fewer are listening. The government could’ve revealed a ‘puppies, rainbows and free money for all’ program last night and there would’ve been a chunk of us left unhappy. That’s why Wayne Swan has arguably the crappiest job in the country.

Shannon Molloy is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor magazine, www.apimagazine.com.au