Flat White

More an epitaph than a budget

3 April 2019

5:29 PM

3 April 2019

5:29 PM

Looking at the reaction to Josh Frydenberg’s first budget, its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It has not been the earth-mover some hoped for, but it is a sound, competent and workmanlike effort; all compliments when applied to running a national economy.

But it also is an epitaph budget.

Election stuff aside, this is a traditional Liberal budget with Howardesque overtones. A return to surplus this year sustained over the estimates, prudent spending on national infrastructure and modest but affordable tax cuts. It’s “no new taxes” mantra paints a stark contrast with Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen’s $200 billion-plus of new taxation and intergenerational theft to pay for their extravagant pledges to tickle the tummies of everyone with a grievance against the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government.

It’s prudence against profligacy.

By returning the budget to surplus, Frydenberg has put the nation’s interest ahead of his or his party’s. He deserves honour and recognition for that.

Alas, though, in itself this budget it won’t be enough to avoid a Coalition electoral catastrophe. It may, however, save some seats, and give the government what it desperately needs: something positive to campaign on.

As New South Wales showed last month, a week is a long time in politics, and the government’s defeat is not yet certain. A strong campaign with an attractive vision may yet save the day and stop Shorten. Let’s hope for Australia’s sake it does.

But it’s hard not to see this budget as the Coalition’s political epitaph, a benchmark by which the government’s likely successor, Shorten Labor, can – and will – be judged from opposition and a talisman a defeated Coalition can leave office with; a symbol of some dignity for the future and the very opposite of “the Beazley black hole” in 1996.

Frydenberg’s solid but likely futile effort begs the question of what might have been had the Coalition got its economic management right from the outset, and kept its leadership house in order.

Sadly, however, easily preventable deaths are the hardest to mourn.

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