The final tally is in and some credit is finally due to the big political parties: we have had one of the most parsimonious campaigns of recent times.
Over the last five weeks, Labor has committed to just $12.1b of new spending over the Forward Estimates, and found offsets for all but $2.3b of it.
The Coalition has spent a whole lot more — $24.6b — but offset all but $700m.
However, the Coalition’s figures are clouded by unrebutted claims of costings blowouts due to their failure to submit them to Treasury. The biggest of these are an $800m overestimate of the interest savings from cancelling the NBN, a $300+m underestimate of the cost of its expanded education rebate, and a missing $500m in the final year of the Coalition’s proposed expansion in hospital bed numbers.
There’s also the Coalition’s failure to include the likely $100+m cost pa cost of its offshore processing centre. If correct, these would suggest the Coalition, similar to Labor, will increase the pressure on the Budget by about $2.4b over the next four years — plus whatever Nauru costs.
Even so, by the standards of previous elections, it’s a downright miserly outcome and testament to the change in Australian election culture wrought by Kevin Rudd when he famously declared “this reckless spending must stop” in 2007.
Indeed, after producing a further round of savings this week, the Coalition briefly look on track to go to the election having actually saved money — until they finally unveiled the extensive pork-barrelling and industry welfare the Coalition has committed to in the bush and to industry during the campaign.
Commitments like a “Biosecurity Flying Squad” (there’s your next Border Protection-style reality TV show right there), feral animal control and $250m worth of industry welfare in the Innovation portfolio chewed up the Coalition’s savings and sent them well into the red.
Labor has insisted all along that its spending is all fully offset but its refusal to identify specific savings against new spending means it has racked up over $2b in unfunded commitments, despite Julia Gillard’s declaration that Labor wouldn’t add anything to the Budget bottom line during the campaign.
Wayne Swan announced a final $95m in savings on Wednesday, mainly from carbon capture and storage funding, a well to which both sides have gone and drunk deeply during the course of the campaign.