Before Anthony Albanese and his party came to power more than six months ago, the Australian people didn’t know much about the fresh-faced, good-looking young man who has represented the seat of Rankin in the House of Representatives since 2013.
The lead-up to last Tuesday’s Budget had been extraordinary. Dr Jim Chalmers made it almost his daily duty to explain its importance to the nation’s future.
The Treasurer’s mother is a nurse, and his father is a courier driver who left the marriage when Chalmers was 13. He has two older sisters but spent his adolescent nights at home alone because his mother worked the night shift. He says he could quickly have gone off the tracks but for a high school teacher who found a way to reach him.
Before Jim’s election to Parliament, he was the Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre and Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer.
He has a PhD in political science and international relations from the Australian National University and a first-class honours degree in public policy from Griffith University. He is a qualified company director and has written two books.
Last Tuesday, Chalmers, to use his term, had his chance to “walk further and forward” when he delivered his and the Government’s first Budget. His nerves early on were understandable, having been Treasurer for only five months. However, he has overseen close to 16 Budgets as a staffer and advisor. One might call him the youngest-ever father of the Budget lockups.
He has known the secretary of the Treasury, Steven Kennedy, for 15 years. Together with his Chief of Staff, Claudia Crawford, they were both at Wayne Swan’s side during the GFC. The Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher, is a friend and colleague. It has been said that being involved in Budget preparation with her is like being “hit in the arse with a rainbow.”
The Treasurer and Finance Minister said before delivering his first ever Budget:
“This budget will be solid, sensible and suited to the times we are in…
This budget is the government’s first opportunity to deliver on our commitments to the Australian community and to begin to clean up the mess left behind by the former Coalition government.” (Jim Chalmers).
“The former government used taxpayers’ money to cynically buy votes before elections by politicising grants funds and used the budget to land political deals with the Nationals in the Coalition party room – that approach to spending ends in Labor’s first budget.” (Katy Gallagher).
Off the top of my head, I listed the following that wanted or needed an increase in their share of the cake: Income support, job seeker allowance, climate change, increase in rental support, disaster mitigation assistance, child poverty, housing, Health, Dental care, education, aged care, aged health dementia, free child care, parental leave scheme, cost of living, charitable institutions, domestic violence, wages, government departments like FIO, mental health, NDIS, suicide, The ABC, defence, The environment, Bureau of metrology. And on top of all that, there is the funding of Labor’s election commitments.
In my memory, it would be the first Budget delivered in a honeymoon period. On top of that, it would be a budget delivered against a backdrop of a possible world recession, global inflation, and environmental disasters. You can add poor leadership around the world to that.
Flood waters running down our east coast continue to rise, inundating crops and property, demoralising communities and adding inflationary pressures.
There is no doubt that the global economy is volatile. We have a budget that is in structural deficit, meaning that we have an imbalance between what we earn and what we spend. We must address this problem in the short term for the good of the long.
In the words of Jim Chalmers:
“I think about it almost every day. How do I take the complexity of the economy and the Budget and not dumb it down but explain it and level with people about what we are grappling with; try and give them the sense that there’s a lot of 50-50 calls in managing the economy. That’s the sense I want to give.”
We are now in the post Budget period, and how the Treasurer has performed with the crucial task of getting the economy back on track is being reviewed. Anyway, if my analysis doesn’t suit you, here are five experts who can help:
“The devastating line that worked so well for Labor only months ago is now rebounding on Jim Chalmers in a budget that cannot guarantee the most important election promise of all.
“Everything is going up except your wages,” voters were told in a relentless Labor message before the election. “Only Labor has a plan to get wages moving.”
“This Budget is careful with taxpayer funds without embarking on major changes that put Labor’s political capital at risk.
The tough decisions are being put off until May.”
“There are no longer four horsemen of the Apocalypse. There are five stubborn donkeys of debt and deficit, and their names are interest, aged care, health, defence and the NDIS.
The 2022-23 redo budget from Jim Chalmers and Katy Gallagher reveals clearly just how the new crew are wreaking havoc through the nation’s finances. Since taking office, they have referenced the five spending donkeys and the long-term financial risk they pose. The Budget confirms the damage.”
“Australian households hoping for significant cost-of-living “relief” in this Budget will be sorely disappointed.
Chalmers has offered a “five-point plan” to provide “responsible cost-of-living relief”, comprising cheaper childcare, expanded parental leave, cheaper medicines, more affordable housing and getting wages moving again. But households need to prepare for much more short-term pain before this benefit kicks in.”
More from Ross Gittens:
“This “solid and sensible” Budget is not so much good or bad as incomplete. It hints at “hard decisions” to be made but doesn’t make them. Chalmers says it’s “a beginning of the long task of budget repair, not the final destination”.
In the end, all will be revealed. But right now, we’ve been shown little.”
“Dr Jim Chalmers has observed the doctor’s sacred obligation under the Hippocratic oath – do no harm. His mini-budget doesn’t aggravate any of the problems in the economy or the Budget. But it doesn’t do much by way of healing, either.”
It was as I predicted. A clear-the-air budget that sets up the next one and the one after so that continuity is achieved. It will reveal the hard decisions that still need to be made.
We were entitled to an honest appraisal of the actual state of the economy, and that’s what we got. It was open and responsible and revealed the incompetence of the conservative parties.
It told us that we were in a financial mess, but we have good honest people trying to fix the problems.
This is a responsible Budget that is right for the times and readies us for the future. It delivers on the priorities of the Australian people, and it repays their faith in a new government.
— Jim Chalmers MP (@JEChalmers) October 25, 2022
My thought for the day
The common good, or empathy for it, should be at the centre of any political philosophy. However, it is more likely to be found on the left than the right.
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