Happy budget day! It’s a thrilling morning for political wonks across the nation, as busloads of our best political hacks get locked up in Parliament House to pore over giant documents full of numbers, to emerge late this afternoon to file their stories and then go get sloshed.

It’s also a big day for federal Treasurer Wayne Swan, who’ll be presenting the much-anticipated first budget of the Gillard government, with a focus on a return to surplus by 2012-13.

It’s not going to be a complete surprise, since there have been well-placed leaks all week. For starters:

  • A crackdown on the long-term unemployed. Work-for-the-dole schemes will be stricter, with recipients forced to do two days training per week for 11 months, rather than the current six months. Women on the single-mother’s pension will be encouraged to return to work.
  • A $2 billion mental health scheme, which will focus on prevention in young people and funding the Headscape program.
  • Pensioners will get a set-top box to help their access to digital television.

A guessing game remains for the deficit, with talk of it being blown by about $10 billion this year, out to  $51 billion. The independents are standing by to clarify that the promises made to them in last year’s hung parliament will appear in the pages this year’s budget.

Herald Sun columnist Terry McCrann made odd comparisons with the film Black Swan, noting we would see the evil black and good white versions of Wayne Swan in this year’s budget:

“Wayne Swan’s fourth budget will be a bizarre blend of austerity and extravagance. On the one hand, slashing and burning — on the other, splashing and spraying money around … It’s all a sort of ‘Black Swan’ merges with ‘White Swan’ exercise that will produce a dirty-greyish fiscal bird …”

The carbon tax could cloud the budget spotlight, warns Dennis Atkins from the Courier Mail:

“This negative spin from Abbott and Hockey may well survive the Treasurer’s actual budget delivery.

That’s unless Swan can manage to trump the before-the-game spin and come up with a big, unambiguous message that swamps the Opposition’s speculation.”

Dennis Shanahan at The Australian says this is Swan’s and Gillard’s test to get the public focus back on jobs and education.

“It’s got to the point that this budget is a survival test for the Gillard government.”

Lecturer of economics Alex Millmow writes in The Age about how difficult an odious budget is for Treasurers:

“In bringing down a budget that will impart a mildly deflationary effect upon the economy, Wayne Swan will be unaware that he is perhaps writing his own political obituary.”

We need that debt down so we can face the next global economic crisis, says Peter Hartcher at The Sydney Morning Herald:

“When the global financial crisis rocked the world, the key to Australia’s relative immunity was that we went into the crisis with zero federal government debt. This was Peter Costello’s gift to the nation.

It allowed the Rudd-Gillard-Swan government to launch two stimulus packages without any danger to Australia’s rolled-gold credit rating. It’s now time for the Gillard-Swan government to roll back the debt and restore Australia’s fiscal health.”

Michelle Grattan over at The Age has moved past the budget and straight on to the carbon tax, which will be a crucial test for the Gillard government:

“But once the budget is out of the way — and they fade quickly these days, unless they contain political bombshells — all attention will swing on to the carbon tax.”