Whatever you do, don’t mention the D word.

Our Canberra correspondent writes today that the federal Labor government carries a lot of psychological baggage from the Howard years. In fact, it suffers from “the political equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder. And the greatest damage accrued around economic management”.

That explains this nervous talk, or non talk, around whether the projected Budget surplus should be abandoned to “pay for” the cost of recovering from the floods.

Bernard Keane notes, “… the government’s oft-repeated commitment to return to surplus by 2012-13 come what may is its admission that it is stuck with a debate defined by its enemies in the Opposition and the media.”

The surplus angle has been dogging Gillard since the early days of the floods. The press gallery copped a bollocking from the public for hammering the line of questioning. A perfect opportunity, you’d think, for Gillard to show some spine by puncturing the simplistic focus on surplus and reframing the debate. She didn’t.

Experts are now questioning the allocated spend on natural disaster relief. In 2010-11, the annual provision was cut to $80 million until 2013-14, 20% less than that made by the Howard government in its last budget, according to The AFR today. As Keane writes, “under even the mildest climate change scenarios, the cost of recovering from extreme weather events is going to plague future budgets much more frequently than we’re used to.”

So maybe it’s time …

Deficit. There, we said it.

Peter Fray

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