In a belated victory for good sense, Wayne Swan has finally announced the abandonment of the promise to achieve a budget surplus this financial year. More surprisingly, Joe Hockey (apparently contradicting his leader) has taken the opportunity to back away from the Coalition’s promise to bring in a surplus in its first year, should it win the election.

Swan's original promise was silly in two ways. First, there are many different measures of the government’s fiscal balance, and all of them have a substantial margin of error. The question of whether some particular measure is a few billion dollars either side of zero, in a budget of more than $350 billion, is of no significance whatsoever.