Outgoing Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson has identified one of the key problems at the heart of the government’s efforts to sell its budget — and indeed its broader economic strategy.
The perceptions of unfairness that have dogged the government from the moment Joe Hockey delivered the budget could have been offset by signalling that it would address the extraordinary benefits that high-income earners derive from the tax system in areas like superannuation in its tax white paper.
As Crikey has been arguing since well before the budget, it is a bad look for a government that insists there is a fiscal problem (it used to be an “emergency”, or a “crisis”, but that rhetoric has now been cooled down) when it deliberately walked away from its predecessors’ measures to modestly increase taxation on superannuation earnings for (very) high-income earners.
The budget only confirmed this was the case, showing the cost of superannuation tax concessions, which primarily flow to high-income earners, will blow out from $30 billion this year to nearly $50 billion in four years’ time. That is exactly the sort of area the government should have been flagging as coming under review.
The broader point, of course, is that fairness is not the key area in which government intended to debate the budget. It was intended to be sold as a “growth budget”, driving jobs and infrastructure construction to offset the ending of the mining construction boom while slowly returning to surplus. Instead, since budget night, the only issue has been equity. And despite Parkinson’s wise words, that battle is one the government has now lost.