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Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine: The Re-Election Budget With a Dash of Social Justice Rhetoric

By Denis Bright

Josh Frydenberg has presented a re-election budget. Its assumptions have been challenged by the grim realities of the budget papers themselves and some critical reporting in sections of the mainstream media. The political rhetoric is about untested future possibilities from the conservative crew which brought an unequal recovery from the excesses of the resources boom, the GFC and now the challenges posed by COVID in the global economy.

The unequal income tax changes were locked into the system before the arrival of the COVID challenge with reluctant bipartisan support. Tax relief of up to $510 per year for the lowest paid workers coexists with continued largesse to the government’s support base with the add-on benefits of legalized tax avoidance strategies. These tax inequalities will increase in Phase 3 of the LNP’s tax reform strategies when everyone in the $45,001 to $200,000 taxable income range will share a tax rate of 30 per cent in 2024-25.

Tax avoidance strategies available to taxable income recipients of over $200,000 will mean that few Australians in the future will actually pay the highest tax rates. The highest income earners also have the advantage of tapered Medicare premium rates which the ATO is always slow to update in the next edition of its Medicare calculator for 2021-22. Medicare is also negligent in its failure to remove out of pocket expenses to patients accessing bulk-billing services for access to specialists and their diagnostic services.

The possibilities of an early election are increased by the lack of sustainability in the rebound from the global COVID recession. A forecast rebound of +4.25 per cent in real GDP in 2021-22 will taper to +2.25-2.5 per cent in the short-term future. Delivering Phase 3 of the flatter taxation scales in 2023-24 under a re-elected LNP government risks the attainment of the government’s reduced unemployment rate targets and the possibilities improved real wages (Budget Outlook Paper):

 

 

Close trading and investment ties with China during the volatile Abbott years after 2013, protected Australia from the worst phases of global economic volatility long before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some acknowledgment of the positive benefits of our relationships with China does not appear in the Budget Outlook Paper:

 

Chart 2.1: Real GDP growth in 2020, Australia and the G7 economies

 

Optimistic projections for spending on the essentials of health, aged care and infrastructure is always subject to the effects of future episodes of global economic volatility and the increasing militarization of our strategic policies. The biggest irony in the current budget has been picked up by ABC News (11 May 2021) in its coverage of the hesitant delivery of home-care packages for elderly and disabled Australians:

Tens of thousands of additional home care packages and mandating the time staff spend with aged care residents are at the heart of the federal government’s nearly $18 billion response to the damning findings from the aged care royal commission.

Key points:

80,000 additional home care packages will be released

Every aged care resident to receive 3 hours and 20 minutes of care a day

The government rejects levy proposal and will pay for the $17.7 billion package through revenue

Tuesday’s budget revealed the sector will receive $17.7 billion over five years, after the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety estimated one-in-three people living in aged care in Australia experience neglect, physical or emotional abuse.

Eighty thousand extra home care packages will be provided over the next two years, despite the royal commission finding that, as of June 2020, almost 103,000 older people were waiting for a package.

However, Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted that would be enough to clear the current backlog.

With the success of the mass COVID-19 vaccination roll out in NSW prompted by an innovating app developed by a smaller Queensland enterprise, all Australians will cheer on the commitment to more IT training packages. The Australian economy should not be relying on multinational providers for the delivery of such innovative servers so that users are actually paying for the profit taking by firms with a self-proclaimed expertise in their cherished fields. It’s pretty appalling that multinational expertise in low technology products like fare readers should be in the hands of US based transport and military security giants like the Cubic Corporation with its headquarters in San Diego.

Josh Frydenberg’s budget delivery with those rhythmic nods from Scott Morrison and senior ministers did have a hypnotic character about a new transition to the social market in Australia. It was just a dash of social justice in a recipe for unequal economic recovery that might be harder than expected to sell to the electorate. The devil is in the detail of future projects for the delivery of great outcomes which can be wound back at a moment’s notice as our naval vessels are sent on dangerous freedom of navigation patrols to annoy our most profitable trading and investment partner.

Backing investment losers on the global scene is not good economics when the Australian economy is so short of new major private sector investment. Our new partnerships with the Quad Four of Australia, Japan, India and the USA should not be at the expense of proven economic allies that have carried Australia from over a decade of recovery from the GFC prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (Current RBA Charts to May 2021):

Now its over to Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers to deliver a much needed wake-up call to take the Australian electorate out of its potential hypnotic trance with that dash of social justice that came in the budget mix from Canberra. Watch out for the hang-over effects if the LNP makes it across the line at an early federal election while the initial rebound to last year’s lockdowns are temporarily in place as shown by the projections from the Budget Outlook Paper which was noted earlier in this article.

 

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.

 

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12 comments

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  1. Kate

    I like the ‘behind the news’ style of Denis’ budget article. The current structures of power and influence cannot deliver that dash of social justice.

  2. Leila

    Josh Frydenberg delivered a well choreographed presentation in his budget delivery on 11 May 2021. The electorate wants more than promises which can easily be reversed in response to unforeseen circumstances in the turbulent times ahead. Just yesterday there was a significant reversal on Wall Street which brought the Australian market off to a flat start this morning.

  3. Paul

    The true believers from the LNP will really love the budget delivery. I agree. It had little substance and is full of idle promises in the name of economic projections.

  4. Chris

    Thanks for the take of this new age where wealth accumulates but many are alienated and burdened by mortgage debt or rental payments in a housing boom.

  5. Pat

    Let’s go for a better investment mix. Australia is already the 12th largest global economy on the current IMF listings. It is about to eclipse Russia and Italy. Australia would be there already if the federal government had invested more in IT education and training.

  6. James Robo

    Lots of investment in motorways I see. Where is the commitment to electric cars and environmentally friendly transport. Virtually all the freight from Sydney to the Northern Rivers and the Gold Coast goes by road hauliers. Fuel tankers especially should be going by rail freight as they clog the motorways out of Sydney particularly on days when the road surface is wet.

  7. Tessa_M

    Definitely a re-election budget and not a plan for our future. Thanks Denis for your article.

  8. New England Cocky

    Ah Denis … more empty political promises that will never be fulfilled by Scummo & the Chorus of Hell$ingers Cult of Greed & Paedophilia followers in the Liarbral Nazional$ COALition misgovernment. The only certainty is that there will be an early election in 2021 because Scummo said that he would go full term.

    Remember the $4BILLION Bushfire Recovery Fund? How much has been distributed to date? ZERO!!

    WE live in hope and prepare for the 2021 Feral election.

  9. Lara G.

    Gains from Australia’s close association with the USA will be soon lost in expenditure on high technology military equipment. Be careful down south there in Australia (Filipino perspective)

  10. Stella

    Denis, thank you for your interesting commentary about the 2021 budget.

  11. rubio@central coast

    Thanks Denis.

    Structural analysis has great potential for good citizens’ journalism.

    But how can the progressive message get through the news jam from the Murdoch press and commercial eyewitness news hype.

    That’s the challenge facing the Opposition. In the Main Streets of Suburbia and adjacent coastal areas of Outer Sydney, There is little deep political engagement beyond the occasional glance at mobile phones for new content.

    Here on the Central Coast, Robertson has been in LNP hands since the 2013 federal elections. Labor’s challenges have increased with the decline of trade union membership often associated with the privatization of state enterprises. Unlike the Greens, Labor still has the support of the trade union movement and should continue to use this historical association. The Greens will never forma majority government and are increasingly out to get Labor in those leafy inner-city electorates.

    More use should be made of Sally McManus in the budget reply period when social justice issues are being discussed.

    That said, the overall response to the LNP’s budget is quite flat. How can a political party suddenly change its hue and still retain credibility be with the electorate,

    The budget papers show that the LNP is set to return to its old colours once re-elected as it tries to claw back that deficit. There is some hope that their hypocracy might back-fire. Progressive Australia never ever liked that old normalcy which became threatbare even before COVID.

  12. Joel

    Great article Denis!!!

    @newenglandcocky I like your style!!! Great commentary on the budget!!!

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