Calculators in hand, pitchforks at the ready – welcome to yet another Coalition Budget! Or so one would assume leading into what is traditionally a night that results in furrowed brows, drinking copious amounts of alcohol that (logically) I can’t afford, and abuses on my keyboard. The hardships that plague a 20 year old, middle class, white male attempting to embody the outrage of every possible demographic are simply unparalleled.
This year, however, I’ve been barred from my usual reaction by a budget that requires a heightened sense of analysis and, frustratingly, a lack of partisanship. A budget that in many ways is far more reminiscent of its ALP counterpart, forces those responding to it to engage with the why; not to merely recap the decisions that have been made.
Much as I’d like to, I can’t take credit for the following comparison (that has headlined a number of news sources throughout the day; from the front page of the Herald Sun, to the ABC’s dedicated live analysis):
The strongest parallels between the two parties may be drawn in regards to Morrison’s pledges involving infrastructure, with Western Australia receiving new roads and railway systems and Sydney, a second airport in the city’s west. In presenting both these initiatives, the Treasurer’s rhetoric such as “Good Debt and Bad Debt” came straight out of 2007 Wayne Swan’s dictionary – mirroring Labor’s approach to initiatives that seek to improve the nation’s fiscal outlook by investment rather than austerity, with a credible path to financial gains.
By far one of the most disappointing and discouraging elements of this year’s budget is the news that 100% of funding ($303 Million) dedicated to Foreign Aid is being frozen completely for two years from 2018. An unfortunately logical progression for a portfolio that saw a proposed $7.6 Billion dollars stripped over five years in the 2014 budget.
Coincidently, this year has also seen an increased investment of $321 Million in the realm of National Security. Both decisions are rooted within the same ideology, and aren’t just similar in figures. An ideology that restricts Australia from maintaining relevance in the ever growing globalisation of the political arena, and an ideology that asserts this government’s attitude as one that is fatally inward looking.
No doubt the bombardment of Trump-esque, blindingly nationalist rhetoric currently being fuelled by Australians such as Mark Latham, Pauline Hanson and their peers has clearly been an inspiration, with foreigners drawing the short straw(s) including (but not limited to):
- a new levy that discourages businesses hiring foreign workers with payments up to $5000 per worker,
- as well as other charges striking the pockets of foreign investors and foreign property owners.
Oh, and of course efforts to “Stop the Boats” will continue to be maintained, because continuing to fuel a non-issue in order to appeal to the uninformed fractions of popular opinion will always be cheaper than admitting you made the issue up.
Forever the pioneers of fairness, this Government’s insistence on targeting the most vulnerable demographics of people is as much true at home as well as abroad, with measures being introduced that could see those relying on welfare being subject to random drug testing, as well as a number of other questionable conditions that risk allowances being threatened or cut completely. In the question of whether to support or trap those struggling with unemployment and substance addiction, it seems the income implied in the latter option will always appeal to Scott Morrison more than investing in the people of the country he helps lead.
Also a point of contention is the proposed 0.5% increase of the Medicare levy impacting all tax payers regardless of economic position. Though this may seem like an move to equalise taxing efforts across the board, when married with the dismantling of the Budget Repair Tax in just over a month’s time, millionaires and high income earners will continue to be prioritised despite logically and ethically being the most appropriate demographic to tax in the name of shrinking the deficit.
Regardless of my criticisms, it is important to note that this budget isn’t entirely disappointing – which for reasons disclaimed at the conclusion of this article is very high praise coming from me.
This positivity is reinforced tenfold when comparing it to both the 2014 and 2016 budgets which, as Renee Villaris eloquently phrased this morning: delivered “a middle finger to any Australian that asked ‘What’s in it for me’.” Morrison’s support of Traditional Broadcasters by abolishing their annual service fees shows a belief in the Australian fractions of the entertainment industry that is more and more being dominated by new media competition. Similarly the budget’s support of vaccinations, education, infrastructure and first home buyers presents victories that largely remain uncontroversial and unsuspicious. It must be noted however, that we mustn’t allow the standards in which we hold this government to be dictated by the nightmarish reality of previous liberal budgets – just because a budget is better doesn’t make in inherently good.
There is no questioning how strange the approach the government has taken this year has been, though there is a far divide from unexpected and unprecedented. True, last night saw the death of Tony Abbott’s zombie measures that plagued the Turnbull’s last budget – and yes as I’ve mentioned numerous times before, the safety of the budget has seemed slightly positive in its uncanny resemblance of a Labor manifesto. What we need to recognise however, is that Morrison’s attempt at a Labor budget isn’t a sign of ambition nor amends, simply one of defeat. The coalition has been forced into compromise by strikingly low levels of public opinion, and shouldn’t be congratulated for sacrificing the only credible factor they had to their name: loyalty to their political philosophy.
Distracted by political analysis and admittedly by a selfishness that ensures we prioritise the information we receive by how much it affects us on a personal level – something of significance that is unsurprisingly absent from news headlines is the revelation that funding is finally being channelled into providing healthcare for Indigenous Australians exposed to radiation from British nuclear tests throughout the 50s and 60s. While said funding is to be celebrated and encouraged (as already has been done by ALRM chief executive Cheryl Axleby), it is important to ensure the conversation regarding compensation for both immediate and intergenerational health issues does not plateau. The fact that this move is taking place some 60 years following the event is also indicative of a constant inaction that far transcends the attitudes of the current government when it comes to both the recognition and historic accountability on atrocities regarding our first peoples. An inaction that continues to be unacceptable. An inaction that continues to remain unchanged unless public pressure is continually applied. An inaction that, if today’s coverage of this funding is anything to go by – will unfortunately struggle to be seen as ‘popular news’.
No, the 2017 Budget is not one that will produce the same paroxysm of anger and protest that followed its 2016 and 2014 counterparts. Similarly, regardless how much my inner dramatic mourns, there will be no onslaught of heated Facebook posts, online petitions or quick witted Radio Monash specials that detail the carnage and betrayal plaguing the general public – because a budget that lacks any hint of confidence and party direction is not one that earns a battle, it is one that concedes a loss. The Coalition has entered into survival mode, and frustratingly this budget may be out-of-character enough to fool the demographics Turnbull needs, in order to improve both his and his party’s approval ratings.
*Connor Johnston is a paid member of the Victorian Labor Party and a member and regular donator to the Australian Labor Party on a Federal Level. There is no affiliation, be it financial or otherwise, with the ALP and the writing and publishing of this piece.