It was always going to be a Herculean task for Labor to turn the last budget before the election into a game-changer and give itself a fighting chance on September 14. Hercules did not deliver tonight.

Wayne Swan’s sixth budget, handed down in Parliament House at 7.30pm, was more of the same from a party that has long struggled to convert good economic times into political capital.

The budget posts solid economic outcomes, although a significant surplus is not forecast until 2016. It makes a handful of tough decisions — scrapping the baby bonus will be one of the most controversial, as will reining in health tax breaks — but the budget relies more on higher taxes to chart its shaky path to surplus. The budget’s big-ticket items, Gonski education reforms and the NDIS, are there and funded for. There is vision, therefore, in budget 2013-14.

Some vision, yes, but no central narrative. There is confusion and incoherence at the heart of this contradictory budget, as Richard Denniss argues in Crikey tonight.

There are some good ideas, sure, but there’s not enough courage in these four budget papers. As Bernard Keane writes tonight:

“The long-running criticism of Wayne Swan as Treasurer has been that he has produced a fantastic economy but been hopeless at telling Australians about it. This budget is an excellent example of Swan’s time in the job …”

Over to you, Tony. And the ultimate irony is that you’ll get to benefit from some of the sensible savings Swan has made at this 11th hour.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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