The Treasurer takes an interest in intergenerational issues. He has an eye to the future. Unlike John Howard, he looks past the next election – to the time when he hopes he will be in the top job.

If you look at his “the mining boom is over” comments to the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week, from this point of view, they take on a different meaning. As the Herald concluded, they “suggest the Government will be more constrained in next May’s budget before an election due in the second half of the year”.

Costello’s comments make the speech last night by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry interesting, too. Henry warned policymakers against using the resources boom as a basis for economic decision-making:

In that temptation lurks an intergenerational tragedy, if we succumb to the temptation…we will impose an unnecessary burden on our children and grandchildren, indeed, on all future generations of Australians.

Instead, Henry said governments need to seize the opportunities created by our current economic prosperity to tackle systemic flaws in society. Greens leader Bob Brown is quoted in The Age today predicting “the May budget will be the biggest environmental budget in history”.

Climate change, of course, is an intergenerational issue. It’s a long term matter. Announcments like the funding of this week’s renewable energy policies – and last week’s solar power station and the projects we saw a few weeks before that – help build momentum and turn political attacks. They help make it look as if the Government is committed to tackling the matter. But the real proof of commitment would come with a major Budget commitment.

A major Budget commitment would surely fit in what Henry’s saying. It would help John Howard in the lead up to the election – and give hope to Peter Costello that there’ll still be a Liberal Government there for him to take over a little down the line.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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