Some common sense prevails. With unemployment on the rise it’s not exactly a wise time to cut funding to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to the point where the Australian Statistician Brian Pink found it necessary to reduce the sample size in the Bureau’s Labour Force Survey. Fortunately last night’s budget saw an additional $15 million a year added to the ABS budget and the sample size will be restored during 2009-10. Details of other changes to the work program were posted this morning on the ABS website.

Indian voting reaches final stage. The massive process that is conducting an election in the world’s biggest democracy has reached its final stage with counting of votes due to begin on Saturday. There has been little change since voting began almost a month ago in the Crikey Indian Election Indicator with the Congress Party still seen as the most likely party to provide the new Prime Minister.

A ho-hum, we knew all that, budget. It is surely telling a government something when coverage of its annual budget does not make page one of the country’s biggest selling daily. When the respectable broadsheet in the same city excludes budget coverage from the front as well, it really is certain that the Treasurer gave birth to a bore.

What Wayne Swan delivered last night was virtually a “no new news” budget. Almost everything of general interest in the mass of budget documents had been carefully planted in the media over the previous couple of weeks. The only real surprise was the announcement of a gradual increase in the age at which people will qualify for the age pension.

That was seized upon by a couple of the tabloids desperate not to waste the hard work of their staff artists who had prepared some wonderful work to go with a horror budget headline. In the absence of an increase in excise on beer and cigarettes that was predicted in some of the early budget previews, the words in the Treasurer’s speech could not live up to the images. There’s nothing really horrible about a decision that will take until 2023 before all retirees must wait until they are 67 to get the pension.

If newspapers really are in to cost cutting they will surely stay away from next year’s budget lock and have their staff trying to find real news as Melbourne’s Herald Sun and The Age did this morning.

And so we have two winners.

We had hoped to announce the winner of our Crikey Budget prediction contest in last night’s special email edition but the stewards inquiry into the result was not concluded until this morning. The difference of opinion between the judge and the editorial chief steward over what actually was the predicted budget deficit were difficult to resolve. Irreconcilable actually. Which is why this morning we have two winners of a year’s subscription to the daily email and a Budget Tour T-shirt.

The judge’s prize goes to Matthew Hodges who was spot on the $57.6 billion figure. The editorial chief’s award goes to Ben Wilson who was closest to $53.1 billion.

The average deficit of all the entries, incidentally, was exactly $57.6 billion. You are a smart lot, you Crikey readers.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey