Wayne Swan is boasting of $33.3b in savings over four years, including $7.3b in 2008-09.

It’s not all real, but a lot of it is. For a start, there’s a number of non-savings in this – expenditure that’s been pushed into 2009-10 or beyond, but which will happen anyway, at least on current forecasts. The reallocation of the Higher Education Endowment Fund moves $304m into 2009-10. Funding for the National Party boondoggle the inland rail link is likewise deferred into 2009-10. Then there’s a bunch of one-offs that only yield savings next year or for a couple of years tops. The cancellation of the OPEL broadband contract yields $960m over three years. Bring troops back from Iraq saves $305m. A change in GST payment arrangements provides a quarter of a billion, mainly next year.

Then you get the “more by good luck than good management” windfall-type savings. $330m from delays (are there ever not delays?) in defence projects. Faulty projections in eligibility for Parenting Payments provides more than $300m. Lower drug sales means savings on the PBS.

A rough calculation suggests about $3b of Swan’s $7b in savings have come from faux-savings, one-offs or dumb luck. But that’s all fair enough. That happens in Budgets.

The serious ongoing savings make up the remainder of the cuts – about $4b. This isn’t so much a meataxe as a messy shave. But it’s real blood, and we haven’t seen it spilt like this for a decade. These cuts are in the Budget Papers under the dour heading “Responsible Economic Management.” Here are just some programs that are now ex-programs, or at least have undergone a radical downsizing:

– Partner Services Pension payments
– Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate
– Australian Industry Productivity Centres
– Commercial Ready
– Global Opportunities Program
– Growing Regions Program
– Regional Partnerships Program
– Sustainable Regions (following the example of the Howard Government’s first Budget, the Government has released a Rural and Regional Budget Statement proudly boasting of its commitment to Regional Australia while slaughtering regional programs)
– Chronic dental treatment
– Tasmanian Health Service Infrastructure program
– General Practice Immunisation Service Payments
– MRI – improved access
– Clinical training for enrolled nurses
– Green Vouchers for Schools
– Community Water Grants
– Realising Our Potential program
– Australian Technical Colleges

There are plenty more of these – spread across each and every agency, some worth a few million, some in the tens of millions. They’re the fruit of the Razor Gang’s efforts, going line by line through the spending inherited from the Howard Government. There’s billions more there to go through, and Wayne Swan tonight committed to continuing the rolling ERC process. The pain may not be over yet.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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