If a tree falls in the forest…

…does anybody hear?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past few days you will have heard/seen Joe Hockey say that the budget is in terrible shape and he’ll have to clean up Labor’s mess. You see it’s all Labor’s fault.

Chris Bowen has been saying that $20 billion of the $17 billion budget deterioration since Labor’s pre-election statement is due to Hockey’s own decisions, that Hockey is setting us up for swingeing cuts in the budget in May next year.

I think the $20 billion is across the forward estimates (four years) and the $17 billion is just this year – it’s confusing.

Anyway, the AFR provided this helpful graph, which was sourced from Treasury, but I can’t find there:


Laura Tingle says the budget has been mugged by the deteriorating economy as well as alarming spending blowouts. There is a need, she says, not to “crunch a soft economy facing a continuing decline in national income, yet in the medium term there is a need to profoundly re-engineer the budget – and voters’ expectations.”

Yet there is so far a complete lack of what she calls “fiscal rules” to measure Hockey’s performance. There are no yardsticks or performance indicators. The future is completely open. We await the National Commission of Audit and the Government response with some trepidation.

Bruce Cockburn’s song If a tree falls sees vast swathes of forest felled. Yet single trees falling also go unnoticed. What’s happened in Queensland in the last couple of years foreshadows what we can expect. Ben Eltham’s report on the massive cuts to small and medium arts organisations in Queensland, for example, warns of worrying reverberations through the entire national arts sector. Cuts of that kind may not impinge directly on my experience, but I feel the life blood is being sucked out of the place. Yet the Newman government are now telling us how worthwhile the whole exercise has been. They are very proud of themselves.

Ian McAuley thinks we’ll get a massive stimulus to benefit the well off and more debt because Abbott cares about winning elections and beating up on Labor more than responsible government. I suspect that misreads the relationship between Abbott and Hockey. I suspect Hockey, backed by Matthias Cormann and Arthur Sinodinos, is running fiscal policy.

John Daley of the Grattan Institute thinks the Government will need to break at least one of its promises:

You don’t solve a budget deficit of $30 billion a year with a couple of hundred million here and a couple of hundred million there. You actually need to do some big things. The Government has certainly promised that they’re not going to be reducing education spending or health spending or defence spending or changing superannuation rules or increasing taxes. So that doesn’t leave them a lot of options.

Honestly, anything could happen.

13 thoughts on “If a tree falls in the forest…”

  1. “A Big Lie, if repeated often enough, becomes the Truth” was a cornerstone of Nazi propaganda.

    The Big Lie that it is all Labor’s fault is the cornerstone of Liberals propaganda – and it is their substitute of planning and for policy – it is their substitute for taking useful action too.

    Both sides of politics are to blame for the mess we are in – and if you want to blame one side more than the other then the Liberals are much more to blame …. starting with Menzies in 1949 …. who promised unbounded prosperity to a people tired of food and clothing rationing, fed up with a desperate shortage of housing after the Great Depression and the Second World War. Menzies delivered on his promises – sort of – by mortgaging YOUR future; his illusionary generosity was on the contemporary version of an unlimited credit card …. and every government since followed the Menzies recipe for getting elected.

    Now we have reached the stage where we have become a colony or a sphere of influence for every transnational corporation and foreign government that wants to get rich by taking advantage of the mug Australians.

    We have get ourselves out of this 64-year-old mess – as fast as we can.

    First of all, we have to replace this present bunch of failures (and all their excuses) with a government that actually works – and works in Australia’s interest for a change.

    Double-dissolution then a Federal election in late March 2014 anyone?

  2. Honestly, anything could happen.

    Well the NDIS has been put on notice. At the very least the scheme will have to live within its predicted cost rather than in-practice results (and what government hasn’t underestimated the cost of these sorts of programs in the past). I wouldn’t be surprised if the roll out rate is pushed out in order to reduce the expense.


  3. Is it just me or have most of the things they’re promising not to change been changed already? So it should be “no more cuts to education, superannuation…”

  4. It’s not just a case of not reducing defence spending. My recollection is that before the election they promised to actually increase it, returning it to the level it enjoyed during the golden years of Howard. Wars don’t come cheap.

    This promise was made with a good deal of pride. Par for the course, I know, for conservatives. What I’d like to know is why it’s self-evidently a good thing to aim to increase Defence spending in the future. Wouldn’t a preferable goal be to work towards a situation in which we felt that we could responsibly and safely reduce it?

    In an environment of extreme budget pressure, this ceases to be a mere philosophical issue. I would have thought that a responsible government (maybe even an adult one) would be thinking about creative ways in which to reduce outlays, rather than sticking to conservative mantras like big military equals good for the country.

  5. Snorky @ 5:
    Defence spending can be reduced whilst giving us a heck of a lot more bang for our buck – but the Liberals won’t do it.

    All they will do is cut back overall Defence spending without any reforms and innovation whatsoever (other than cosmetic ones) – and that, in the current international situation, is not just plain stupid, it is downright dangerous.

    Defence procurement in Australia will still be the hunting ground of every shyster and crook on the planet; recruitment and retention will still be extraordinarily expensive; response to military and humanitarian emergencies will still be painfully slow (and don’t blame the Diggers for that; they do the best they can); experiment and innovation will still be discouraged.

    And I’m afraid that despite all the fine words and firm actions by individuals in the ADF, this government’s attitude to Defence will do nothing to discourage bullies, gropers and sleazebags from joining the ADF (I do hope I am wrong on this particular point though).

    Now that there are only 400 Australians still deployed in Afghanistan, just watch this government “get tough” with injured war veterans so as to “save(??)” money. Get ready for a flood of shock-horror exposures from the spin media of “fit and healthy” ex-Diggers bludging on the taxpayers with their “fake(??)” injuries. Dirty? Lies? Of course …. but whatever it takes get public approval for reducing the cost of running Veterans’ Affairs.

    This government clearly DOES NOT WANT creative ways of reducing outlays in Defence or in Veterans’ Affairs. It just wants slash-and-burn …. or should that be crash-and-burn?

  6. Yes indeed, anything can happen.

    It is quite clear that the Coalition is riven with the various factions of the Right. These factions pre-existed Abbott but were kept in check by the cunning of Howard when last in office and while in opposition by the joyous freedom of being wreckers. But now glittering prizes beckon. However, contradictory interests cannot be reconciled.

    Abbott is no Howard. Howard assiduously cultivated his suburban battlers in pursuit of a culturally conservative dream. Even WorkChoices was framed from the standpoint of the small business man — Howard’s own garage owning dad. Abbott sees his struggle in global terms. He isn’t a nationalist. He is ultramontane. Abbott’s vision is of a cosmopolitan Christendom. Plutocracy is not inimical to this vision so long as they concede moral hegemony to good governance.

    The neoliberal wing has more room to manoeuvre under Abbott than under Howard. But Abbott is enough of a realist to recognise that thoroughgoing neoliberalism is electoral poison and thus threatens to terminate his kulturkampf.

    Thus, the likes of Gina Rinehart ought to be happier with Abbott than they were with Howard. But it remains to be seen whether Abbott will allow a significant shift in the political economy of Australia in favour of plutocracy.

    Yes indeed, anything can happen, including a neoliberal putsch against Abbott.

  7. Graham Bell,please go back to your sources about the big lie.I think you maybe,misquoting Hitler who was analysing a big lie,and then perhaps,trying his own affirmations against it.Although, one must be sure that the Germanic language at the time defined what a lie was.If one accepts that Germans lived by an ideology then how would a lie be given a standard meaning where there was no problem with the State of Germany at the time!?If someone said dogs do not pee on trees,then surely it wouldn’t need Hitler’s approval to potentiate the person who claimed that, was a liar.If an arse has hairs,surely it is a hairy arse!?Unless one is looking out from within!Then my neck is hairy always and thus the 5 o’clock shadow is because I cannot tell a singular hair from a neck of them.The switching witching hour is upon us.Tis Friday without a incident!

  8. DInR: my surprise is at the bald-faced nature of it. They said no cuts. They cut. Now they think we will take their word for it that there will be no more cuts. Yeah, right!

    (it’s surprisingly hard to write well using only words of one syllable)

  9. Still in limbo here.Found this today, Brian. Time Unearthing a Frozen Forest… Sunday June 24th 2001 article by Michael Lemonick.

  10. Philip Travers @ 9:
    The Nazis didn’t invent the tactic of repeatedly telling whopping big bare-faced lies until everyone thinks they must be true; that tactic was probably used back in the mists of prehistory. It’s just that the Nazis and their imitators used it so effectively.

    The crudeness of the Liberals’ Big Lie – that every problem, state or federal, is the fault of the Previous Labor Government – would probably horrify sophisticated Nazi propagandists.

    Katz @ 7:
    Excellent summary.

    As I asked earlier, anyone for a double dissolution and a federal election in late March?

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