The challenge of this Budget was to meet the short-term threat presented by an unprecedented world recession, but to devise a way to re-balance the budget and address a decade of fiscal drift.
It does both, although it achieves the former rather more successfully than the latter. The “path back to surplus” mapped out by Wayne Swan is founded on optimistic assumptions both about the global economic environment and governments’ ability to keep spending to 2%. It also starts the process of clawing back middle-class welfare, but the long-promised meat-axe remains in the cupboard.
What the budget is most successful at, however, information management. It was extensively leaked, such that there were virtually no significant announcements left when Wayne Swan rose to the Dispatch Box at 7.30pm. Expectations about the deficit were massaged such that the eventual was lower than expected. But even then, Wayne Swan didn’t want to utter the words “deficit” and “fifty three billion dollars” within sight of a camera.
It sums this Government up perfectly: competent, more disposed to spending than saving money, but ruthless when it comes to media management.