Will the Labor brand receive a major boost from this budget? This is doubtful as its main claim is based on its expanded cash grants.

One of the contributing factors to levels of cynicism about political parties is the assumption that voters respond mainly to their hip-pocket nerve. Apart from the inherent s-xism of the metaphor, reducing politics to the level of supermarket catalogue bargains is unlikely to gain commitment or gratitude. Money comes and goes from bank accounts without exciting any serious appreciation, so depending on cash splashes may have a brief, but fleeting effects rather than reinforce any sense of party loyalty.

There were elements in the budget that should please some lost progressive Labor voters. These include cutbacks in Defence spending, reducing the ridiculous tax concessions for high-income super contributors, cutting extra deductions for golden handshakes and living-away-from-home expenses. The new money for dental care is also a belated plus. The reversal of the cut to company tax will be greeted with some relief by those who think taxes are too low, but, oddly, Labor is trying to “blame” the opposition!

On the plus side, there is promised expenditure on changes in aged services and the NDIS, both will hopefully improve bad services. However, both proposals also have are the Coalition backing, which is good for the schemes’ future but undermines the possibility of these being seen as clearly a big ALP plus.

However, not much else suggests a government that can claim greater fairness as a basic value. The $5 billion in cash payments will be welcomed and spent or saved, it may not stick on voters. There are some other problems in these as well. First, the most poverty-stricken income support groups on Newstart only get a measly $4 per week, which is ridiculous.

Secondly, a group of 100,000 sole parents will lose about $60 per week when they move to Newstart and some will also lose a further $62 education allowance. Offering extra funds for often unavailable child care services, particularly school-aged care is not helpful, and suitable jobs are often hard to find. Thirdly, some families lose payments for students over 18.

There are other problems because these new payments are tightly targeted, reducing so called middle-class welfare. This gets brownie points from most, but raises other issues for potential and actual two-income families. The lower earner often faces high, effective marginal tax rates, that they lose a high proportion of extra earnings. This loss, together with the costs of childcare and other work-related expenses, discourages their workforce participation, which the government wants.

Postponed Foreign Aid increases is a big commitment undermined, which annoys a wide range of people who are concerned by this evidence of meanness by one more affluent, developed nations. It is another example of the small mindedness that too often undermines the ethos of the Labor brand.

There are no big-ticket items that are clearly Labor driven for making a more civil and equitable society. The generous cash splash may undermine this idea further by reinforcing its belief in voter self interest, which  militates against our potential for collective efforts for the common good.

Peter Fray

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