One question the media are unlikely to ask about Peter Costello’s revelation of a $17.3b surplus for 2006-07 is what right does a government have to rip that much money out of taxpayers with nothing to show for it?

If it was a one-off, it might be OK. But for some years, the Treasurer-for-Life has been appearing every August, his jaw locked into its official anti-smirk position, to declare that in fact, the Government took a lot more off taxpayers than it expected and, well, thanks for your generosity, folks, we’ll keep the change.

Despite some half-hearted attempts to reduce the personal income tax burden, this remains by far the highest taxing and spending government in history. But $17.3b is the biggest tip yet handed over by reluctant taxpayers. Imagine how much it would’ve been if the Packers actually paid some tax.

And we all know where this surplus will go. Every dollar will be promised to marginal electorates between now and polling day for “vitally-needed infrastructure”, addressing “the failures of Kevin Rudd’s Labor Premiers”.

If it was only for hospitals and ports we’d be lucky, because it might stand a faint chance of benefiting someone at some point in the future.

But expect the bulk to be wasted on propping up unviable businesses, “research facilities” that amount to business welfare, shire council boondoggles, roads to nowhere and hare-brained rail projects, all to bolster the electoral chances of the dolts and shonks that populate the Government backbench. The whole process would be administratively far easier if they simply mailed an envelope stuffed with cash to swinging voters in every marginal electorate.

Which begs the question of what role the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance actually play in the day-to-day operations of this Government. Neither appears to ever say no to any funding proposal, regardless of merit or constitutional propriety.

Costello may whinge to biographers about the Prime Minister’s Mr Creosote-like approach to choosing election commitments, but evidence that he is anything other than an ineffectual sook is thin on the ground.

And has anyone actually seen Nick Minchin since he flogged off Telstra? Perhaps he’s been confined to barracks since his careless revelation to the HR Nicholls Society that the Government, dissatisfied with the extent to which it had made workers’ lives a misery through its IR laws, wanted to try Workchoices II.

If we were living in the socialist nirvanas of northern Europe, such a free-spending tax addict of a government would make sense. However, we ostensibly elected a right-of-centre government — you know, the type that is supposed to support quaint ideas like state rights, small government and the rule of law. Then again, despite preaching small government since the sixties, the Right has never lived up to its hairy-chested rhetoric.

Whether in America under Reagan or GW Bush or Thatcher’s UK , conservatives have always made a mockery of their pretence to be committed to reducing the size of the public sector. When given the chance to put their money where their mouths are, they’ve always scoffed the lot. This mob, under the self-styled “most conservative Liberal leader in history”, is no different.

If Costello ever had the guts to indulge his Keating fantasy, the Government’s appalling expenditure record would’ve made a perfect point on which to commence his carping and wrecking.

But we all know that was the grog talking, not principle.

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and protect yourself against news that goes viral.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW