We definitely have a looming political budget crisis. Whether there is a fiscal/economic crisis is a separate question. First the politics.
Mark has an excellent post wherein he poses three alternative scenarios. I have only two, because I don’t see Abbott, Hockey et al being able to negotiate the maze that faces them in the senate. Nor do I see the Liberals changing leaders. There simply isn’t anyone. Hockey has broken his brand. Turnbull isn’t interested and not enough will have him. They couldn’t choose Morrison, could they, although his stocks are said to be riding high, having stopped the boats.
1. Abbott fails to negotiate important elements of the budget, such as eliminating the carbon ‘tax’, the proposed changes to Newstart and Youth Allowance, the changes to the age pension etc. As promised, Abbott would call a double dissolution election, after some bipartisan changes to senate voting practices. But note well, Antony Green for complex reasons says:
In my opinion there is not going to be a double dissolution in the near future, and even in the more distant future, I cannot see any possibility of a double dissolution before late 2015 or the first months of 2016.
2. Antony Green thinks that Abbott will only call a double dissolution if he thinks he can win. In this scenario Abbott fails to negotiate the senate, and the polls stay unfavourable. Abbott wimps out and limps on to a regular election in the second half of 2016.
I would discount the second option. Someone pointed out recently that when challenged, Abbott becomes more determined; if you like, more pugilistic. Moreover it would be manifestly foolish to struggle on with a government that lacks authority in the parliament and can’t effectively govern without Clive Palmer, who would maximise his leverage.
Of course, the polls might change. Apparently the feedback from the electorate to the party room was horrendous. For example the Oz gives us a taste:
JOE Hockey’s friends say he has been taken aback by the poor response to his budget from Coalition MPs. Well, Treasurer, you’d be horrified to know what some of them really think.
“There’s been no narrative. It’s been all over the shop. One minute we say there’s an emergency, the next there’s $8 billion for the Reserve Bank, $12bn for fighter jets, and we’re still splashing out on the paid parental leave scheme,” says one.
Now the government is considering a budget ad campaign. Except that there won’t be any radio, TV or newspaper ads. The campaign will fill our letter boxes with letters and pamphlets. Apparently the recalcitrant and benighted voters need to understand that this was the budget that the country needed. Needed, that is, to fix the “Labor debt and deficit mess”. You’ll hear that phrase a million times before the next election.
Which brings us back to whether there is a crisis in the fiscal/economic sense.
Jacob Greber and Phil Coorey had an article on the front page of the AFR Budget crisis is real, says PBO:
Parliament’s independent budget adviser has rejected Labor and Greens’ claims the Abbott government has concocted a budget crisis, saying without action Australia’s debt will grow at one of the fastest rates in the developed world.
In remarks that effectively endorse government warnings that if left unchecked, gross debt would balloon to $667 billion, Parliamentary Budget Officer Phil Bowen said it was time to begin the return to surplus to protect the economy against future crises.
“It is time to start coming out [of debt and deficit], otherwise the longer you leave it the more exposed you become and the harder it is to wind it back,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
This is sad, really sad. On page 47, buried in the middle of a tiny opinion piece by Andrew Leigh we had the truth. Labor in the Pre-election Fiscal and Economic outline had the budget coming back to surplus in 2016-17 in an orderly way. Hockey plans to do it by 2017-18, with the most horrendous cuts.
The document Leigh refers to was prepared by Finance and Treasury and released in August 2013 as part of the charter of budget honesty. Remember this table from ABC Factcheck?
Mainstrean journalists are too thick or too lazy to look at the facts. Instead they accept the LNP narrative.
With friends like that who knows what the polls will do?
Sensible people realise that there is no crisis, though we do need to bring the budget back to surplus within a reasonable time. After the confusion and sense of affairs out of control under Swan/Gillard, few seem to understand that finally, under Rudd/Bowen order had been restored. According to the independent umpire. Hockey has added the chaos and crisis in so far as it exists.
I’m inclined to think that Hockey/Abbott et al have fractured the basic contract with the people, that the people will not want to go back to the world of the pre-Whitlam era, which is where Trevor Cook compellingly thinks the reactionary tea party is aspiring to take us:
When they attack the so-called age of entitlement, they are really attacking the pillars of modern, Whitlamite Australia where concerns about access were more important than reducing the tax rate for business and rich individuals.
And the biggest stalking horse of all is Abbott’s efforts to get rid of Labor’s commitment to a national system of government and revert to a pre-federation style competition between increasingly impoverished states.
The intended victims of this charade are the poor and the middle class.
Abbott knows the states will be forced to cut spending – he wants them to do it.
Australia is at a turning point. And Abbott is no moderate, no centrist, not even a genuine conservative.
Perhaps the tea party utopia is best captured in this image from an anti-liberal site via Mark’s Facebook: