In the mid-1980s, The Economist magazine summed up Australia’s performance this way: “If you look at history, Australia is one of the best managers of adversity the world has seen – and the worst manager of prosperity.”

At the annual talkfest hosted by the Melbourne Institute with The Australian (or is it the other way around?), this was a starting point of Treasury Secretary Dr Ken Henry’s talk. Now, he asserted, we had finally overcome our “historical curse” and had learned to manage prosperity.

The Australian’s editorial said it was “the wrong time for soft options” and it seems this was the conference’s main theme.

Steve Lewis reports today for The Oz:

Billions of dollars in commonwealth spending will be fast-tracked for announcement before the budget as the Howard Government moves to shore up voter support ahead of next year’s election.

The strategy will allow John Howard to kick off the election year by unveiling dozens of initiatives covering science, health, natural resource management and education – rather than waiting until budget night.

It will also give government MPs potentially millions of dollars to splash around their electorates in the lead-up to the poll.

Among initiatives to receive special approval is the CSIRO’s $700 million Flagship program, designed to boost Australia’s research efforts. The $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust, which gives community grants for environment and natural resource projects, will be extended and the $1.4 billion national action plan on water and salinity will be given a new lease of life.

The three areas mentioned are all very worthy recipients of taxpayer funding, as is a program of serious tax reform, with regular cuts to rates of income tax. But how are we to square the circle? Vote in Henry latest poll, and give us your views.

Read more at Henry Thornton.