One good thing about the Government’s plasma and pokies package is that, regardless of its merits, it was done quickly. This spared us days and perhaps weeks of demands from industry and community groups that a stimulus package would be best directed toward them.

We already have one of those processes every year, called the Budget, which attracts thousands of submissions from peak bodies, big companies, NGOs and community groups recommending the sort of fiscal measures they’d like to see. Curiously enough — Access Economics’s one apart — there’s not that many savings initiatives amongst all those submissions.

I’ll let everyone in on a secret: all those submissions are binned and ignored by the government. Those that are looked at are looked at by bureaucrats, who might forward a summary to their ministers, but they’re ignored too.

And no, I’m not joking. And it applies to all submissions, even those from certain high-profile government-owned broadcasters. Sorry, but that’s how it is.

So we were spared that farce. In its place, we’ve had people emerging to complain that they didn’t get anything after the event. The Australian yet again engaged in its curious habit of parading wealthy families as salt-of-the-earth, ordinary types furious at being done over by the Government — in this case a family earning $160,000. In contrast, Mike Steketee lamented the lack of money for the unemployed. Tony Abbott thought the package should have extended to anyone “who is unemployed, or not on a pension and who doesn’t have kids”, and ACOSS agreed with him.

That would’ve plunged the budget well into the red by the time we’d finished taking care of everyone. The Greens, at least, thought the package should provide energy-efficiency measures that would yield ongoing cash savings as well as carbon emissions reductions. That might’ve been a bit like walking and chewing gum at the same time for the government, and probably not fitted its timetable of getting a cash injection into the economy this financial year.

Either way, the package will have to combat one of the sharpest downturns in consumer confidence on record. The latest Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence data has shown a precipitous drop in the last week to its lowest in 17 years. 40% of Australians expect bad times financially in the next 12 months — up 5% in a week — and only 26% believe this is a good time to buy major household items. Only 34% — down 4% in a week — believe they will be better off this time next year.

Peter Fray

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