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How are the ‘adults’ managing our economy?

By Ad astra

Who will ever forget the insults, the slurs, and the slander that the Coalition heaped upon Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan as they managed the economy through the Global Financial Crisis and beyond? They were depicted as children playing games in their political sandpit with no idea of what they were doing, making one catastrophic mistake after another.

Remember how the Coalition boasted that the children should get out of the way and let the adults take over, insisting as they did that they were the experts at economic management. So convincing was the rhetoric that the electorate believed them and has consistently rated them as superior to Labor in economic management in opinion polls.

Recall the ‘debt and deficit disaster’, a mantra with which they assailed Labor for years. Remember the ‘intergenerational debt’ they accused Labor of accumulating.

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Since their election in 2013 they have had their chance to show their much-vaunted expertise under the skilled management of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, and then Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, with Mathias Cormann a consistent shadowy presence. How have they done?

I am indebted to one of our most astute political commentators, Bernard Keane, Crikey politics editor, for the best analysis I have read of the Coalition’s economic performance over the last four years. You can read it in its entirety in his article in the April 3 edition of Crikey: How the deficit was blown: The Coalition’s $100 billion bill.

I have drawn heavily on Keane’s analysis and have quoted from it substantially. Here is an abbreviated version of it. Sit down before you read it, and have a tranquillizer handy.

Keane begins:

”Since its election in 2013, the Coalition has given away $46 billion in political decisions, and signed the Commonwealth up to $50-60 billion in long-term spending that will hammer the federal budget for decades to come. (My emphasis.)

“The 2013 Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook, produced independently by Treasury and Finance, forecast a return to surplus this financial year and net debt peaking last year at $219 billion.

“The Coalition’s first budget forecast a return to surplus in 2018-19 and net debt peaking at $264 billion.

In MYEFO at the end of 2016, the budget was forecast to be still $10 billion in deficit in 2019-20, when net debt would be $364 billion.

Can you believe that after their promise to return the budget to surplus this year, and their assurance that net debt would be confined to $219 billion last year, the ‘adults’ subsequently told us that the budget would not return to surplus until 2018/19, and later that in 2019/20 we would still have a $10 billion deficit and that net debt would balloon to $364 billion, twice as high as Labor’s deficit ever was! No wonder the ratings agencies are breathing down their necks! And they still claim that the situation would have been much worse had Labor still been in government!

While Keane acknowledges that much of the spectacular deterioration of the budget under the Coalition is due to revenue write-downs, he asserts that “the government has worsened its own position through a series of political and ideological decisions that give the lie to its claims to be the victim of an irresponsible Senate”. He details the substance of those decisions as follows:

  • an $8.8 billion gift to the Reserve Bank to make the 2013-14 budget deficit look worse, and earn future dividends for the government.
  • Repeal of the carbon price cost the Commonwealth around $12.5 billion in lost revenue over the forward estimates and at least $1.8 billion per annum beyond that (based on a conservative estimate by the Climate Institute, lower than the government’s own estimate)
  • The government’s company tax cuts agreed last week will cost $5.2 billion over the forward estimates.
  • Repeal of the mining tax – despite the government’s claims that it raised no money – cost it $3.5 billion over the forward estimates, according to budget papers.
  • The reversal of Labor’s changes to Fringe Benefits Tax reporting requirements to end the rorting of novated leases cost, by its own admission, $1.8 billion over the forward estimates.
  • Income tax cuts for middle- and high-income earners cost $3.8 billion.
  • The ineffective Emissions Reduction Fund so far is costing $2.55 billion, although the government has decided no further funding will be wasted on it.
  • A Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, established with no effective oversight, assessment or evaluation mechanisms and flagged as a funding source for unviable coal mining projects, will cost $5 billion.
  • A National Water Infrastructure Development Fund established as a funding source for Barnaby Joyce’s obsession with building more dams, is costing $0.5 billion.
  • A scheme to prop up dairy farmers threatening to desert the National Party, via the discredited means of concessional loans, is costing $0.55 billion.
  • Australia’s continuing participation in Middle East military ventures has so far cost $0.72 billion since Tony Abbott sent Australian forces back to Iraq in the name of fighting the “existential threat” of ISIS.
  • The government is spending $0.24 billion on a school chaplains program, although further funding has been halted for now.
  • Nick Xenophon extracted an additional $0.37 billion worth of conditions as price for his support for company tax cuts last week.

Keane lists several significant costs beyond the forward estimates from a number of other government measures:

    • The disastrous F-35 joint strike fighter program will cost taxpayers at least $17 billion over the period to 2023. There are new problems with the aircraft that are not being addressed or are worsening, and with no guarantees the cost will not escalate further.
    • The government’s decision to reverse the Abbott government’s approach and construct the new generation of Royal Australian Navy submarines in Australia is expected to add up to 30% to the $50 billion cost of the program in order to provide less than 3000 jobs in South Australia.
    • The company tax cuts agreed last week will cost $25 billion over ten years, although the government remains hopeful it can increase that cost to $50 billion! although there remains no evidence from anywhere in the world of any economic benefit from company tax cuts. (My emphasis)
    • The continuing fiscal impact of some of the above measures beyond the forward estimates will cost the budget, on a conservative estimate, $6 billion per annum (unindexed).

Although some of the decisions were backed by Labor such as the submarines decision, which will cost the taxpayers many billions of dollars, the F-35 purchase, and the income tax cuts, “these decisions are in defiance of evidence, represent the triumph of ideology over reason, and in many cases were rankly political.” (My emphasis)

Worse, some of them are likely to generate new waves of spending: the removal of an effective, cheap carbon price in 2014 created an energy policy vacuum that led directly to the current energy crisis and proposals from the government to spend billions of dollars re-entering the power generation industry.

Our military involvement in the Middle East looks set to increase, not decrease, in coming years.

The cost of poor decision-making will be borne by taxpayers for years, even decades, to come.” (My emphasis)

It would be hard to imagine a more condemnatory account of the Coalition’s ‘adult’ management of the nation’s economy in the four years since 2013. Its predictions have all been wrong. The ‘adults’ have steadily worsened the nation’s fiscal situation. The 2019-20 budget is projected to still be $10 billion in deficit, the promised surplus is nowhere in sight, and the nation’s net debt is projected to be $364 billion, twice as high as it ever was under Labor!

In an update in Crikey Weekender: Seven new terrible economic records ScoMo set in March – Scott Morrison has some new records to add to his quest to be known as Australia’s worst treasurer reads: “The Office of Financial Management released figures last week showing gross borrowings at $484.6 billion. Of this, $58 billion is residue from the Howard government or its predecessors. Labor increased it by $212 billion. Another $214.6 billion has been added since the 2013 election. Hence the Coalition has now more than doubled Labor’s gross debt, in three years and six months. It doubled Labor’s net debt in January.”

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The unavoidable conclusion is that this ‘adult’ government is economically incompetent, driven by its conservative rump, quite unable to see its way through the nation’s economic difficulties, incapable of analyzing the economic situation, inept at deriving solutions, bereft of planning ability, and hog-tied by ideological constraints. Moreover, it is so unutterably arrogant that it cannot see its ineptitude. And even if it could, would it be capable of doing anything about it?

As a substitute for informed opinions, all we get is self aggrandizement and platitudes from Turnbull, and a torrent of meaningless drivel from the Coalition’s two motor-mouthed financial Daleks: Morrison and Cormann.

How has it come to this with the adults in charge?

What do you think?

Should he be replaced?

If he needs to be replaced because of incompetence, who should replace him?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. Rossleigh

    Given how iron ore prices have tanked since February, it’ll be interesting how Scott Morrison will treat expected revenue in the upcoming Budget. If you remember, Joe Hockey lamented that the “unexpected drop” in iron ore prices was resposible for his Budget blowing out, because, well, who wouldn’t expect them to stay at record high levels?

    From The Financial Review 2015: “As a rule of thumb, every $US10 fall in the price equates to about $2.5 billion a year in lost revenue, or $10 billion over the forward estimates.”

  2. Keitha Granville

    For all their condemnation of Gillard and Swan, at least we were protected from the worst of the GFC in thier debt increase. The best way to spend money was to give it to the people who then spend it and keep the wheels of business turning. Can you imagine where we would have been if this current mob had been incharge during the GFC ? The mind boggles.

    We have 2 more years to suffer before the real grown ups can take control back and start rebuilding the demolished economy.

  3. jim

    According to the International Monetary Fund, the Howard/Costello government was the most profligate in Australia for the last 50 years. Indeed, while the mining boom was gathering pace they cut taxes so far and so fast that they forced the Reserve Bank of Australia to rapidly increase interest rates.

    While countries like Norway took the benefits of resource price booms and banked them in their sovereign wealth fund, Peter Costello chose to cut taxes for the wealthy instead. He knew at the time that his populist generosity to the highest income earners would force future treasurers to choose between budget deficits or cutting spending on the sick, the poor and elderly. No prizes for guessing which our former treasurer prefers…..

    The Coalition has neither supported growth nor repaired the budget. When Labor “blew the budget deficit” to above 4% of GDP during the financial crisis, they could gain comfort in the knowledge that their policy choices meant Australia avoided recession and the unemployment rate peaked at 5.9%.
    There were significant benefits from that particular budget deficit blowout. It should be noted that it was after these budget measures were taken that, in 2011, Australia achieved the coveted triple-A rating, with a stable outlook, from all three major ratings agencies.
    And our ABC and the Media here are backing these LNP clowns all the way to a sad depressed nation. They the MSM should hang their heads in shame and we all should boycott the media here in Australia, as even when we achieve a better government the media will continue to attack them again with lies and propaganda.

  4. Ross

    You wouldn’t think the coalition could find a worse treasurer than Joe Hockey, but you would be wrong.
    Scott Morrison, no qualifications, no experience and certainly no aptitude was given the job and has since made big Joe look almost competent by comparison. But who would replace this cretin except another cretin in that long conga line of incompetent coalition IPA fruit bats. It would only be a different mouth on a stick spouting the same IPA trickle down nonsense.

    Maybe it’s time there was independent aptitude testing on all these coalition ministers of the crown to sort out the chaff from the hay. I suspect the best offer most could expect would be temporary boundary umpire at the Upper Kumbacta fourths on alternate Saturday mornings.

  5. astra5

    Thank you for the useful information you have provided on iron ore prices and their affect on the budget.

  6. townsvilleblog

    How are the ‘adults’ managing our economy? In a word ‘shockingly’ comes to mind. The only welfare budget yet to be cut is corporate welfare, just a couple of years ago this government spent $55 Billion on the fossil fuel subsidy if they cut that by 10% w2e could pay the budget debt.

  7. astra5

    Keitha Granville
    How right you are about the way Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan protected us from the worst of the GFC and sustained our economy over that difficult time, something never acknowledged by the Coalition.

    The two years to the next election will be tedious as our incompetent government goes from one crisis to the next. After all the boasting about its ‘grown-up’ economic prowess, it could not have performed worse than it has.

  8. Terry2

    To me, the sign of a government turning a blind-eye to tax minimisation and tax avoidance is the sign of a government that has failed in its prime responsibility of providing equity among its citizens.

    Again we have ATO data showing that some individuals earning over $1 million are able to arrange their affairs in such a way as to end up paying no tax and that means that they don’t even pay a Medicare Levy :

    This follows close on the heels of revelations of massive tax delinquency among some 1904 major corporations operating in Australia. These entities were either Australian public companies and multinationals with an income of more than $100m, or Australian-owned resident private entities with total income of $200m or more.

    American billionaire investor Warren Buffett, publicly stated in early 2011 that he believed it was wrong that rich people, like himself, could pay less in income taxes, as a portion of income, than the middle class, and voiced support for increased income taxes on the wealthy. The Buffett rule that he proposed and was supported by then POTUS Barack Obama would implement a higher minimum tax rate for taxpayers in the highest income bracket, to ensure that they do not pay a lower percentage of income in taxes than those less-affluent. At the time, Obama stated that “no household making more than $1 million each year should pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than a middle-class family pays.” Of course the legislation was defeated and under the Trump regime will not see the light of day again.

    But that doesn’t mean that Australia cannot adopt the Buffett Rule which Labor favour but the coalition, driven by the right-wing faction, are against : odd that the coalition are all in favour of cutting taxes for corporations, repealing the ‘budget repair’ tax levy on high income earners * and granting tax offsets to property investors but are not in the slightest bit interested in discussing taxation equity across the community.

    *As part of the 2014–15 Federal budget the government introduced a temporary budget repair levy.
    Individual taxpayers with a taxable income of more than $180,000 per year will have an additional 2% tax withheld by their employer, starting from 1 July 2014.
    It will apply to both resident and non-resident individuals from 1 July 2014 and applies to the 2014–15, 2015–16 and 2016–17 income years.
    Even though the budget has not been “repaired” and the additional tax has not achieved its objectives, it will probably be repealed in the May 2017 budget, despite debt and deficit having increased significantly under this government.

  9. astra5

    Thank you for your informative comment about treasurers we have known, and the link to “Peter Costello’s five most ‘profligate’ decisions as treasurer cost the budget $56bn a year”.

    Indeed it would be a close call as to which Treasurer: Costello, Hockey or Morrison, did the most damage, (and in Morrison’s case is still doing) to our economy. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy’s quote about happy and unhappy families: “All good treasurers are alike; each incompetent treasurer is incompetent in his own way.”

  10. astra5

    Your comment is so apt. The LNP will be remembered for its astonishing capacity for dredging up one incompetent treasurer after another. Just when we thought their choice could get no worse, the amaze us by showing us that it can. What next? If Morrison is sacked, who else? What a dismal prospect for this nation of more of the same, or worse!

  11. astra5

    The Coalition rule is that wage and welfare cuts are for the poor; tax cuts are for the wealthy. The latter underpins its ‘Job and Growth’ mantra and the underlying zombie economics of ‘trickle down’.

  12. helvityni

    They are not doing much of managing of anything; let’s sack them, Mal’s busy boosting coal mining and looking after the big end of town…

    What about the CC, the poor, sick, disabled and old, add to that the homeless and don’t forget the jobless…

    They are quick to worry about other countries’ wars and battles, itching to join Trump wherever he goes…

    They are happy to spend money on border protection, and stop those brown people on boats whatever it costs.

  13. astra5

    Thank you for your informative comment, and the links to articles about tax paid by wealthy people and corporations, which I shall file.

    You rightly highlight the pressing problem of rising inequality, so well exposed by Warren Buffett. Inequality, like global warming, constitutes our most dangerous social phenomena.

    There is no way that the Coalition will move towards Buffett’s views, or to the notion of a universal basic wage. It is governed by its entrenched adherence to IPA ideology

  14. astra5

    You put it well. Our government is hopeless, which means that while they are in government, we are without hope. If only we could sack them!

  15. stephengb2014

    Chris Bowen has made his call on the ‘buffet rule’

    He didn’t have to hang up has shingle on this question , he could have said that that question was one which belonged to the ALP leadership to debate.

    He has, in my book, forever nailling himself to the cross of the neoliberal light group of the ALP Right.

    Chris Bowen is a smart cookie, but clearly not smart enough to put on record his neoliberalism, he might be in the wrong party?

  16. stephengb2014

    The ALP is trying to apeal to those who will never desert the Right, best they recognise their future lies with the proletariat.

    Yes I used that word deliberately

    No I am not a communist either

  17. John Kelly

    Words fail me.

  18. Steve Laing

    And don’t forget the role of the MSM in this ongoing national tragedy. Their willingness to spin the deceit and lies puts them in the same category of Quislings that our present Gubmint is.

  19. king1394

    Let’s not forget the closure and defunding of many worthwhile programs and services which were supposed to be the way this lot balanced their budget in 2014.
    The continuing expense of Nauru and the border security provided by the Navy.
    Subsidies such as the diesel fuel rebate.
    Ongoing schemozzles such as the Job Search system which seems to cost a huge amount and achieves very little.

  20. Steven Hail

    Please don’t let people get away with attacking monetary sovereign governments on the basis that those governments fail to deliver a specific fiscal balance (e.g. a balanced budget).

    It drives me crazy when the Left (and I am on the Left) in Australia complains that the Government is running a deficit and/or that the ‘government debt’ has increased.

    The deficit it not high enough at the moment, and the so-called debt isn’t really a debt at all.

    So people on the Left who complain Morrison hasn’t produced a ‘surplus’ are just showing they are so deluded by the fallacies of the Right that they don’t even know how to attack Conservative politicians.

    If you think the right thing to complain about is the absence of a fiscal surplus, you are as deluded where macroeconomics is concerned as those you seek to criticise.

    Please don’t complain about the deficit, except in an economy with 15% underutilisation that the deficit is not high enough.

  21. Matters Not

    Steven Hail, let’s imagine that an Australian government doesn’t worry the debit or deficit because the resources are underutilised. Money being printed and all that. Everyone who wants a job can have one. Inflation under control. It’s MMT in action and all that. Nirvana.

    So in such theoretical circumstances, what happens to the ‘value’ of the Australian dollar re international exchange rates. Will it buy more goods and services internationally, or less? And regardless of a yes or no answer – can you explain why? Or is international exchange rates of no concern to MMT theorists or is the MMT not capable of adding to that discourse? In short, where does the explanatory power of MMT succeed or fail when it comes to the broader, macroeconomic picture?

  22. Roswell

    Matters Not, governments may not worry about deficits, but oppositions sure do. ?

  23. Kyran

    So, this is what ‘adult’ery’ looks like. Our IPA government remains wedded to big business, whilst phucking everything else in sight.
    Quelle surprise.
    Thank you Ad astra and commenters. Take care

  24. Alan Baird

    Damn good article. These things need to be said just like the Libs said of Labor but twice as loud in keeping with their record. The mantra can be repeated, “We Libs made a much bigger debt and deficit disaster. We are economic girlie-boys.” in a grating Flemish accent. Should be trotted out at a frequency similar to irritating Trivago ads for the the next general erection (‘cos it’ll be a cock up).

  25. astra5

    Thank you folks for your informative comments, compliments, and good wishes.

    Here is some more information about Morrison’s incompetence:

    To add insult to injury, Crikey Weekender: has this to say:

    “With reports of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull taking control of the 2017 budget and rumours that Scott Morrison will be demoted from the senior portfolio in the next ministerial reshuffle, the March news on the economy was disastrous for the Treasurer.

    “At least seven new records were set. None are to his credit.

    Labor’s debt doubled
    “The Office of Financial Management released figures on Friday showing gross borrowings at $484.6 billion. Of this, $58 billion is residue from the Howard government or its predecessors. Labor increased it by $212 billion. Another $214.6 billion has been added since the 2013 election.

    “Hence the Coalition has now more than doubled Labor’s gross debt, in three years and six months. It doubled Labor’s net debt in January.

    Rate of debt increase
    “Gross debt added in March was $18.7 billion, the highest monthly increment in Australia’s history. The most Labor treasurer Wayne Swan added was $13.2 billion in May 2009, at the depths of the global financial crisis. Former treasurer Joe Hockey’s highest was $12.7 billion in November 2013.

    “Nine months into this financial year, the total gross debt added so far has been a staggering $64.2 billion. That’s an extra $7.13 billion each month on average — the highest for the first nine months of any financial year in history.

    “It belts Hockey’s first nine months in 2013-14, when he added $53.6 billion — the second greatest ever. Labor’s highest was $44.7 billion in 2011-12.

    People unemployed
    “Since the restructure of Australia’s economy in the late 1980s, the jobless number has steadily declined. It dropped below 720,000 in 1998, where it stayed for the next 15 years. Until Joe Hockey.

    “Within months of the hapless Hockey becoming treasurer, it was back above 720,000 again. Levels have remained high ever since, despite changing prime minister and treasurer. The jobless number has been above 720,000 for 31 of the last 34 months. In February it was 748,123.

    Jobs for women
    “Women’s unemployment is now back above 6%. It has been 5.7% or higher for the last 39 months. The last time that occurred was 2001 to 2004. For most of Labor’s period, including the GFC, female unemployment ranged between 4.6% and 5.6%.

    The ratio of full-time to total jobs
    “This ratio fell in March 2016 to the lowest in history — 68.6%. It tumbled further for the next two months and then fell below 68% for the first time last September. The January number was a new record low of 67.7%. February’s is the third lowest ever at 67.99%.

    Ratio of men’s employment to population
    “This ratio has been at 62.2% for the last two months and for three of the last six. The last time it was this low was in the early 1990s recession.

    “As Crikey showed last week, the number of workers who need to work more hours has exploded. It clicked over 1 million after Joe Hockey’s first budget and last month reached a new record 1,114,558 workers. That’s up as a percentage of the labour force from 7.8% when the Coalition took office to an all-time high 8.7%.

    Youth underemployment
    “For young people aged 15 to 24, underutilisation is now 31.5%, a new Australian high. This breaks all Joe Hockey’s previous records. The Labor period’s highest was 27.4%, and in the Howard years 27.9%.

    Engineering construction
    “Total engineering construction activity for the year to December 2016, announced by the ABS on Wednesday, showed the worst annual decline ever.

    “Activity in 2016 fell 19.7% on 2015, which was down 13.0% on the year before. Even 2014 was 9.6% below 2013, which was down 1.7% on 2012. That makes four consecutive annual declines – for the first time. The last three were all the worst on record.

    Trade surplus slashed
    “One positive for the Turnbull government in recent months has been the trade balance, which appeared as a surplus in November for the first time in 32 months. December’s trade surplus was even better at $3.33 billion, a record high.

    “That was followed, however, by the second worst collapse in Australia’s history. Figures released last month show the January balance is suddenly $2 billion lower at just $1.30 billion.

    “So, Scott, as the soothsayer said to Julius Caesar: “Beware the ides of March.”

    Do we need anymore evidence that Morrison is not up to the job of Treasurer? He is simply incompetent, yet is the ‘adult’ in charge of running our three trillion dollar economy!

  26. helvityni

    Alan Baird, I belief our girlie-man has a German accent, as he originates from the South Eastern part of Belgium where they speak German.

  27. Terry2


    I well remember when Joyce would lecture us on Labor’s debt and tell us ad nauseam what the interest repayments represented for every man woman and child.

    As shadow finance minister, Joyce claimed on Labor’s debt that ‘Australia is getting into debt to our eyeballs to people overseas”. In consequence, he asserted, ”we are getting to a point where we simply can’t repay it.”

    It would be interesting to get Barnyard’s views on the current coalition debt situation, but don’t hold your breath.

  28. Kaye Lee

    Let’s not forget our Wind Commissioner Andrew Dyer who gets A$205,000 a year for his part-time role, on a three year contract – no mention of how much staff and offices and administration cost. This is after three senate enquires and two state government enquiries.

    As for the Northern Australia slush fund,

    The seven-member board charged with overseeing the fund has been paid almost $500,000 and has met just four times. So far, nothing has yet been lent.

    If there were commercial opportunities available, there are plenty of investors ready to fund them without government assistance.

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