There is something symbiotic about the fact that the federal Budget has been dropped on us just when the final season of Game of Thrones is about to be screened. After all, modern culture has been so heavily influenced by the mythical battles and internecine intrigues of rival bunches of lunatics fighting over the Iron Throne that it is only appropriate they should be matched by a federal budget from that other prominent section of the entertainment industry, the government. And I swear by the old gods and the new, the Lord of the Night and three dragons’ teeth, that in the budget just delivered we have a document of pure fantasy. In fact, if I had to choose between the two as a road map by which I could safely guide my life, I would probably go for Game of Thrones. After all, it is at least plausible and believable, based as it is on human features you can rely on, like self-interest, lying, dishonesty, deviousness and treachery.
In contrast, the budget seems to have been conjured up by a team of scarcely believable amateur clairvoyants. Its main feature is the so-called surplus which is revealed as not actually being there, or at least not yet. It is certainly not there in the year being budgeted for but, at best, only in the following years, and then only in the most theoretical and gullible sense, where imaginary numbers seem to have been plucked out of the air and based around the flimsiest of projections. To take one example: it appears that a good slice of the so-called surplus comes from the collapse of the tailings dam in Brazil that has artificially forced up the price of iron ore bought from countries like Australia and, with it, the company tax coming into the coffers. But when the price drifts back to normal, which it will, our revenue will slide back again and so will the surplus, if any. And the small print from the Treasury, when you read it, makes it clear that the projected surplus veers off into a no-man’s land somewhere between deficit and who-knows-what. By then, even if it is a surplus, it will probably all have disappeared in a mirage of events that have not been foreseen by anyone, including the mystics who predicted it. The same goes for the so-called tax cuts.
Moreover, despite what the prime minister says about having a go and reaping the rewards, there is little in the budget that gives rise to any incentive at all. For instance, I have been planning to start a new business, but I find nothing in the budget that would encourage me to take the risk and a lot that would discourage me. My chosen area is mediation and arbitration, but I find that all of the potential work is firmly locked up by the government; one recent example is the processing of claims under the redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse, all of which will now be done by the government, when it could be carried out by private enterprise. Sadly, I think the Liberal party now believes that governments are better at commercial activities than the private sector.
Moreover, and judging from the budget, the government’s solution to every problem is that the government knows best. Are you worried about the disabled? Well, forget about self-help, because the government will solve every problem for you, spend money on it and set up a new government body to run the whole exercise. Youth mental health? The government will carpet the entire country with new shop-front centres; and they will remain permanent, as all such bodies do. In fact, what I see when I go through the budget is ever-increasing government spending, government regulation and government responsibility.
To see if I was right or wrong about this, I made a study of the budget to see how many times it mentioned the words ‘the individual’, ‘self-help’, ‘incentive’, ‘smaller government’, ‘deregulation’ and ‘personal responsibility’; words that used to encapsulate the objectives of the Coalition parties. They are not there now, I am afraid. All such notions seem to have been abandoned.
But I see a lot of statements about the new fields that the federal government is intruding into, all at your expense, like football grounds, netball courts, car parks and municipal roads. The matching federal bureaucracy continues to expand. We are now to have a new Office of Road Safety to get people ‘home more safely’, more royal commissions on anything you can build up public hysteria about, media controls of dubious clarity and money to decide how to frame the so-called ‘Voice’ for Aboriginals, to which we have never agreed.
Nothing seems to be too remote, too miniscule, too divorced from the real responsibilities of the federal government to justify money being spent on it. But the two most far-fetched notions that the budget seems to be based on are that the people will actually vote for the government if it spends so extravagantly, preferably more than the Labor party, and that this gratitude will be magnified if the government tells everyone about it at the taxpayers’ expense. So I am pleased that the rest of the media has caught up with our exclusive of a month ago that the government has embarked on a series of unjustified and mammoth advertising campaigns to promote its wondrous initiatives; they are simply party advertisements under the guise of government announcements. Of course the Labor party did exactly the same thing in government, but if the Coalition is naive enough to think it will be forgiven for this extravagance because the Labor party did it, I am afraid it deserves the electoral censure it will receive. I fear the result will be as gory as some of the more terrifying episodes of Games of Thrones and we all know how they ended up.
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