Wayne Swan — trailed by tyro finance minister Penny Wong — unveiled the 2009-10 Budget outcome this morning. It was the latest in a year-long sequence of regular economic updates, including MYEFO, the Budget, the Economic Statement released when Julia Gillard became PM and negotiated the MRRT, and then PEFO. This year’s MYEFO will be coming up soon.

If you cast your mind back to what now seems an earlier era of history, this was the budget deficit that Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd had such difficulty articulating in the May 2009 Budget, keen as they were to deprive the Coalition of a soundbite featuring the words “$57.6 billion”, which was the original forecast deficit. That was left virtually unrevised at last year’s MYEFO but revised down to $54.8 billion in May and has come out at $52.9 billion.

The downward revision is not because of any windfall from the the resources sector or, for that matter, particularly good management by the Government. Both revenue and expenditure fell, but Swan declined to take credit for the fall in spending at this morning’s press conference, preferring to note that the fall was mainly driven by demand-driven programs falling slightly short of estimates. The Government saved just under $4 billion because programs such as Medicare and its ethanol grants came in under expectation, and changes to the Higher Education Loan Program reduced expenses, and there were fewer than expected natural disaster claims from the states and territories. Revenue dipped slightly, by $1.4 billion, mainly because of lower income and company tax receipts.

That all leaves the Government with a net debt of $42.3 billion currently, or 3.3% of GDP, which as Swan was keen to point out, pales into insignificance compared to average developed economy debt levels.

This outcome more or less rules a line under the GFC in terms of its fiscal impact. It carved, Swan says, $50 billion out of revenue last year. From here on, the budget will only benefit from the return to the boom-era track the economy was following before the GFC as company tax receipts start surging again. Courtesy of those successive rounds of tax cuts from the Howard and Rudd governments — and none of us are volunteering to give those back, of course — we have a fiscal structure that is more dependent now on company tax receipts than it was a decade ago. That’s one of the reasons why the Budget was hammered so badly by the GFC, but it’s also a reason why August 21 remains a good election for Labor to won, no matter how it managed to do so.

The low level of debt, and a surging economy, raises the question of why Labor couldn’t secure an easy election victory. It takes serious incompetence to nearly lose an election with an economy is such strong shape.