missing from the Budget? Infrastructure. Odd, that. Barry Humphries
declared more than a decade ago that infrastructure had become a great
Australian catchall. “We haven’t got the infrastructure,” the cry went
up when dreams shattered.

Infrastructure has been handy to blame
our current account deficit on. It’s also always useful to bribe the
cockies with. Infrastucture spending shuts the Nats up – for a while,
anyway. And other punters like it, too.

Instead, what we got
last night was the “Future Fund”. Journalists have trod around this
warily. “Though scant on details…” their stories have begun, before
paraphrasing the Treasurer’s official spiel about how the Government
plans to use it to help pay for unfunded superannuation liabilities and
meet the demands of an ageing population – both of the are pretty big
by themselves. The future must be pretty bright if just one fund can
cover them all.

What we know of the Future Fund is that it will
managed by a statutory independent board, that earnings will accumulate
and that it will be safeguarded by legislation. But safeguarded by
legislation passed by a government that controls both houses of
parliament – how safe is that?

This is what the Treasurer says:
“It will begin to fund the liabilities we have already incurred but not
yet made provision to pay for… Whilst the fund will invest the money
allocated to it, no government will be able to draw money out of it
until it is sufficient to meet all the unfunded liabilities to which it
is dedicated…”

He won’t say if the full proceeds of the sale of
the remainder of Telstra will go into the fund, but says that that’s
the “object”. What do the country cousins make of that? How will the
fund’s board make its decisions?

The future, to us mere mortals, looks murky. Perhaps it will clear up closer to election time.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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