Have you noticed that Joe Hockey has been doing the rounds of radio, television and print lately, moaning and groaning about his problems with the senate? It appears the penny has finally dropped and he wasn’t wearing steel plated boots. Ouch!
Back in December 2013 and again in February 2014, I wrote that it was unlikely that Joe Hockey would ever deliver a surplus budget. Finally, it seems, he agrees.
“If we can’t continue to reduce government expenditure we’ll never get back to surplus, we’ll never be able to pay our bills, we’ll never be able to live within our means,” the Treasurer told 3AW from Canberra.
The first bit was right. As for never paying our bills and never being able to live within our means, well, that’s just childish. There will never be a time when we, as a monopoly currency issuer, could not pay our bills.
The deficits will continue to rise, however, and sit around $50 billion a year as revenue continues to fall. The budget savings held up in the senate are a trickle compared with what is needed. They total an average of $7 billion a year over the forward estimates.
“And sooner or later we will run out of other peoples’ money,” he told Neil Mitchell in the same interview. Well, if he continues to think that we won’t be able to pay our bills and that we will run out of money, he should be replaced. It suggests he doesn’t know how we pay our bills.
He also made the rather extraordinary claim that it was, “fundamentally unfair for us to have a lifestyle today that our children will never have”. What rubbish! Just whose children is he referring to? I suspect that when Joe Hockey’s children inherit his family fortune, they will have a much better lifestyle than he does today.
But for the children of the rest of us, well, that depends on how much debt they accumulate; private debt that is, not public debt. At the moment, private debt is the big worry. It is at record levels and threatens to undermine any chance of enhancing our way of life.
It was Peter Costello’s much lauded surpluses that drove us toward record levels of private debt.
Joe isn’t bad at making emotive styled comments in public as if trying to tug at our heart strings. But if he is so determined to rein in spending, he has been told time several times he should focus on tax expenditures like superannuation concessions, private health insurance rebates, mining subsidies and the like. This is where the big savings can be made.
So given the facts, his concern for our children must be taken with a grain of salt.
Interestingly though, on the savings issue, the government is now pleading with Labor to help them through this difficult time. Labor have said they are more than willing to help if the focus is shifted toward tax expenditures. Why doesn’t the Treasurer engage with them?
Dr Jim Chalmers, Labor opposition spokesperson for trade and investment said, “We’re all up for a proper conversation about fiscal responsibility, but we’re not up for a conversation that asks the most vulnerable people in Australia to carry the heaviest load.”
Hockey has a simple choice here. Had he chosen the right one on budget night last May, he might well have been a leadership contender today. But he didn’t, and he isn’t. He chose to protect the big end of town at the expense of the most vulnerable.
Just like his boss, all his problems have been of his own making.