Lindsay Tanner, come back! All is forgiven.

The former finance minister would have been embarrassed by this budget: despite all the stern prime ministerial repetition, it is not tough. Revenue forecasts made just six months ago have proved to be way too high, yet spending has gone on regardless. What’s more the optimistic forecasts remain just as optimistic.

Any decent CFO would be embarrassed by this budget. Revenue forecasts made just six months ago have proved to be way too high, yet spending has gone on regardless. What’s more the optimistic forecasts remain just as optimistic.

Invest in the journalism that makes a difference.

EOFY Sale. A year for just $99.

SAVE 50%

There has been an $8 billion blow out in this year’s deficit since the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Review (MYEFO) last November, and a $10 billion blowout in next year’s deficit.

The return to surplus the year after, requiring a $26 billion turnaround in the bottom line in 12 months, is simply based on ignoring what’s happened and plugging in the same economic parameters for 2012-13 as before.

It’s certainly not based on any savings measures by the government, despite all the spin to the contrary. The net effect of decisions made since last November on this year’s budget plus the budgets of the next two years’ is actually minus $2.5 billion. That’s right, decisions by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan are worsening the budget position, not improving it.

The supposed fiscal centrepiece of today’s budget is savings of $22 billion, mentioned several times in the Treasurer’s speech and many times in the Budget Papers. Actually it’s $21.7 billion, over four years, offset by $18.9 billion in new spending. Net savings: $2.8 billion. And the savings are mostly on the political never-never — back-ended to after the next election.

Budget Paper No.2, which lists the details of changes to revenue and expenses since last November’s MYEFO, should be avoided at all costs by delicate taxpayers — it will just make you feel sick, or furious.

Total impact of expense measures is to add $1.97 billion to this year’s outgoings and $1.7 billion to next year’s. There’s hundreds of the little buggers. A million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re talking real money … $2 billion. Fiscal rectitude it ain’t.

None of this would matter so much if the government hadn’t been promoting this as a tough budget at every opportunity over the past few weeks. It is, in fact, the budget of a government that holds 72 out of 150 seats in Parliament, and hoping to get away with using the spin of fiscal prudence rather than the reality of it.

To get the budget back into surplus, the budget papers now predict an increase in government revenue between now and 2012-13 of $73 billion, or 24% in two years. That includes a 36% increase in company tax receipts. Bear in mind that this year’s number is out by 10% from the forecast published just six months ago.

That increase is despite the huge impact on tax revenues caused by the global financial crisis, and spelt out in detail in the Budget Papers.

Between the 2008-09 and 2010-11 budgets, tax receipts for the current year were revised down by $54 billion, with a further $45 billion cut out of the 2011-12 number. The writedown for this year is now expected to be $40 billion.

Treasury got two big things quite wrong: it underestimated the extent of capital losses, and therefore deductions that would be available against future capital profits, and it underestimated the extent of operating losses that would be brought forward.

The sluggish share market and property market have further slowed down the recovery in capital gains tax receipts, and higher-than-expected depreciation is holding back company tax growth as well.

But even though the starting point has thus deteriorated significantly, the government has left the projections for 2012-13 and 2013-14 where they were.

Here’s how they explain this:

“…the stronger outlook for the terms of trade associated with the current mining boom that buoys the economic outlook over the next few years, is expected to flow through to higher nominal incomes and employment from 2011-12, which in turn should provide some boost to income taxes from 2012-13.”

“The improvement in the terms of trade also boosts the incomes received from commodity exports, which are expected to be reflected in stronger outlook for resource rent taxes”.

In other words, it’s a wing and a prayer budget — keep spending, let the deficit blow out, and predict with a straight face that the commodities boom will bail us out eventually.

Save this EOFY while you make a difference

Australia has spoken. We want more from the people in power and deserve a media that keeps them on their toes. And thank you, because it’s been made abundantly clear that at Crikey we’re on the right track.

We’ve pushed our journalism as far as we could go. And that’s only been possible with reader support. Thank you. And if you haven’t yet subscribed, this is your time to join tens of thousands of Crikey members to take the plunge.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
SAVE 50%