From economic illiteracy, savings are born. Thank heaven for small mercies.

It seems increasingly clear the Coalition’s economic policy for the election is to continue its scare campaign on debt and deficits and hope Australians are economically illiterate enough to connect a possible interest rate rise by the RBA in two weeks with Labor’s economic policies. The Coalition’s economic team of Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb will be sweating on the next inflation rate figure due out next week.

To this end, Joe Hockey – hitherto invisible in the Coalition campaign – was this morning continuing to run the discredited line that the Government is “crowding out” investment through its borrowings, which is less nonsensical, but no less incorrect, than Barnaby Joyce’s claims that Australia was at risk of default.

Nevertheless, from such poor origins some decent policy might yet spring. The Coalition this morning announced a further round of budget savings, albeit rather paltry at $1.18b, in order to create the sense that their in belt-tightening mode, or perhaps just to try to distract the media from Workchoices.  The announcement has brought the Coalition’s full total of savings to $23.8b, $9b of which relate to mining tax-elated expenditure, and much of which will be transferred to other Coalition programs rather than used as the “real savings” that Tony Abbott declared today.

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Even with the new round of savings, the total is below the $24.7b in savings Andrew Robb announced after the Budget, as a consequence of reductions to mining tax-related expenditure, although this has been offset by savings related to the Government’s health reforms, which have already been reallocated to other health expenditure.  But the Coalition appears to have given up on trying to claim it has $47b worth of savings, offering the final total of its savings package at $23,822.29m.

While avoiding genuine high-quality savings like slashing middle class welfare or the private health insurance rebate or chronic disease dental health scams, which waste billions of dollars every year, Andrew Robb has picked out some nice savings. The big ones are the abolition of the Government’s Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, an initiative of Kevin Rudd’s praised by Barack Obama to coordinate research into the unproven CCS technology, worth $300m, $100m each for two aspects of the NBN deal with Telstra, abandoned because the Coalition won’t proceed with the NBN, and $100m in savings from consolidating areas within the Department of Innovation.

Other savings, like $18m to dump the Government’s indulgent self-indulgent Human Rights Framework, or $40m from banning community cabinets or a lousy $300,ooo to cut COAG meetings and make premiers fly to Canberra, will garner media attention but are small change in the overall Budget. Julia Gillard quickly seized on the abandonment of community cabinets as evidence Tony Abbott didn’t want to hear the views of Australians; it’s a nice line, but like the savings package itself is unlikely to interest voters for any length of time.

The full list of new savings is:

Discontinue the Australian Human Rights Framework – $18.3 million

Enterprise Connect – Amalgamation with AusIndustry – $101.6 million

Discontinue Funding for Africa Law and Justice Frameworks – $12.9 million

Discontinue funding for the United Nations Security Council Candidacy – $5.7 million

Discontinue Funding for Community Cabinets – $40 million

Discontinue Funding for the Centre for International Finance and Regulation – $24.1 million

Discontinue Funding for the MySkills website – $4.1 million

Discontinue the Green Building Fund – $5 million

Discontinue the Retooling for Climate Change Initiative – $39.8 million

Discontinue Additional Funding for the State Infrastructure Fund – $400 million

Recover the full costs of industrial elections from the unions – $25.4 million

Abolish the post of the Petrol Commissioner – $4 million

Discontinue Funding for USO Co – $100 million

Discontinue Funds towards the Retraining and Redeployment of Telstra Staff  – $100 million

Abolish Funding for the RET Counsellor to India – $2.2 million

Abolish the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute – $300 million

Reduce COAG meetings to two and to be held in Canberra –  $0.3 million

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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