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Special Budget in Retrospect: Let’s Hasten the Progressive National Conversations

By Denis Bright

Stan Grant’s Q&A forum with Treasurer Jim Chalmers offered a sound rearview perspective on reactions to the Special Budget. The studio audience acted as a virtual focus group to express concerns about the burdens being imposed on disadvantaged Australians to carry other Australians out of the current inflation spiral and the effects of the forthcoming global economic downturn.

Jim Chalmers enjoyed the whole Q&A feedback process. Generating a national conversation about the options for a way out of the neoliberal era was clearly his own agenda as Labor’s representative in Rankin with its electorate office in outer Brisbane’s southside suburb of Woodridge where Labor gained over 50 per cent of primary votes at the last election. As a politically sharp representative from Logan City, Jim Chalmers would be fully aware of the social divide in Labor’s outer suburban heartland and the detachment of many working people from mainstream politics through failure to enrol or even to vote at election time. This local sentiment was covered in my initial post-election article for The AIM Network on 1 June 2022.

Jim Chalmers is quite well aware of the tidal wave of neoliberal values in mainstream politics. While maintaining a misplaced nostalgia for the discredited neoliberal era in global politics, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton dared to offer some qualified support for budget initiatives in childcare subsidies, lower PBS co-payments, housing support for veterans, flood relief and measures to combat domestic violence in his Address in Reply speech on 27 October 2022.

In the short-term, the Special Budget offered a chance of fine tuning of the original 2022-23 budget with one third of the current financial year already history. In the seven months since the delivery of the first budget on 29 March 2022, improved commodity prices have done more to assist the budget processes than real policy decision-making. These improvements are unlikely to weather the storms of a forthcoming global recession and the return of inflationary pressures for the first time in thirty years. Within the major portfolios, the longer-term fine tuning processes had commenced to deliver election promises in social housing, childcare services and paid parental leave and the delivery of new energy commitments.

Despite some relief measures offered to battlers and First Nations’ Australians in the Special Budget, the Q&A audience clearly wanted more commitment to the wealth divide in housing costs, rising energy charges, increased unemployment, more environmental degradation and threats of global international conflicts. All these major issues were touched upon by the Q&A audience. Jim Chalmers empathized with these concerns and needs more feedback from grassroots Australia to proceed with a more progressive national conversation.

Concerns about the implementation of Stage 3 Tax Concessions commencing in 2024 were expressed by the studio audience. Full implementation of these tax changes will cost $254 billion according to estimates by Nick Evershed and Amy Remeikis in The Guardian (25 October 2022).

These follies include some aspects of Stage 3 Tax Concessions which will cost future budgets $254 billion over ten years. These expected and regressive changes include:

  • The higher tax threshold will increase from $180,000 to $200,000
  • The $120,001 – $180,000 tax bracket will cease
  • Income between $45,001 and $200,000 will be taxed at 30%

As noted by Jim Chalmers, Labor tried to amend the tax concessions but did not have the numbers to change the Stage 3 Tax Package from Opposition. The alternative scenario of promising a reversal in the Stage 3 Package would have turned the federal election into a shrill campaign on taxation which might have been more favourable to the LNP.

There is a similar problem with the financial burdens imposed by the purchase of US nuclear submarines at a cost of at least $67 billion as estimated by the article in The Guardian. The electorate is clearly conditioned by mainstream news services to welcome this expenditure plus additional costs for the training of crews and the construction of safe shore installations.

Closer ties with the US military through structural updates at the Pine Gap Communications Base, rotation of troops through the Northern Territory and the transiting of nuclear capable bombers through the Tindal Base have not generated significant debate in the community. Polling by the Lowy Institute suggests that support for the US Global Alliance by the Albanese Government is in line with public opinion.

Just in case DFAT policy makers stoke up a spark of independence in their assessment of global strategic trends, the Albanese Government has inherited a long period of hiring retired US Officers and civilian defence analysts as strategic consultants according to investigative reporting by Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones of the Washington Post (18 October 2022):

Two retired U.S. admirals and three former U.S. Navy civilian leaders are playing critical but secretive roles as paid advisers to the government of Australia during its negotiations to acquire top-secret nuclear submarine technology from the United States and Britain.

The Americans are among a group of former U.S. Navy officials whom the Australian government has hired as high-dollar consultants to help transform its fleet of ships and submarines, receiving contracts worth as much as $800,000 a person, documents show.

All told, six retired U.S. admirals have worked for the Australian government since 2015, including one who served for two years as Australia’s deputy secretary of defense. In addition, a former U.S. secretary of the Navy has been a paid adviser to three successive Australian prime ministers.

A Washington Post investigation found that the former U.S. Navy officials have benefited financially from a tangle of overlapping interests in their work for a long-time ally of the United States. Some of the retired admirals have worked for the Australian government while simultaneously consulting for U.S. shipbuilders and the U.S. Navy, including on classified programs.

In far-off Washington the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates by a further 0.75 per cent at its latest meeting. This will further strengthen the US dollar and invite catch up interest rate rises globally as the US economy slides into recession and possible political instability if Republicans make big gains in the mid-term elections on 8 November.

So Australian policy-makers are stuck with global economic and strategic problems which are not of our making. In the short-term, this instability has produced a temporary improvement in commodity export prices which have decreased the size of the budget deficit at least until 2023-24. IMF projections show that Australia will be better off than most other developed countries enough to avoid a recession here.

 

 

 

If Australia’s economic slowdown in 2023-24 is more severe than expected progressive Australians might finally mobilize to support a national conversation which questions the value of Stage 3 Tax Concessions and outrageous purchases from US and British military industrial complexes during a period of growing austerity.

With Germany’s SPD Coalition Government trailing in national opinion polls, Chancellor Scholz will try to restoke economic relations with China on a one day visit to Beijing. Phillip Olterman of The Guardian (3 November 2022) notes that this is the first visit by the leader of a representative government to China since the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian representatives might eventually take a similar diplomatic route. Improved commercial relations with China are not off limits to Jim Chalmers in his responses to questions from the Q&A audience. Chinese factories have assisted in containing costs to public hospitals for supplies of medical equipment, prosthetic devices and specific items such as orthopaedic shoes (Medical Device Network 14 October 2022).

Political changes in Australia are not yet coming in the Whitlamesque style because of the new government’s spending restraints as a protection against future inflationary spirals as well as cautions from our US allies about improved relations with China.

Regrettably, there is little sign of mobilization from across the broader Labor movement to strengthen the national conversation for a spark of greater independence in Australia’s economic and strategic policies to challenge the wisdom of an All the Way With the USA approaches to domestic and foreign policies.

Without this mobilization, progressive changes are dead in the murky waters of economic downturns and strategic manoeuvres. The real problems are not with Jim Chalmer’ s progressive mindset but with national political apathy in this post-election era. Old structures of power and influence are not really changed by a single election victory and require nurturing by a long-term progressive government that can engage confidently with welcome cross-bench opinions.

Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

 

 

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26 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    I suggest that the Honeymoon Period is over and it is now time for the Albanese LABOR government to step up to the plate and begin fixing the social injustices and economic problems developed by Littel Johnnie Howard and his followers.

    Julian Assange should be brought home immediately, the McBride prosecution to protect the ”reputation” of a senior LIARBRAL Minister later employed by Woodside should be dropped yesterday and the full implications of ”The Voice” proposal discussed.

    Moving on to the media; ABC funding must be renewed and increased, the Murdoch minions implanted to spread soft-core propaganda removed so that morning breakfast radio is an objective discussion of things political rather than a right biased sledging of LABOR cleaning up the LIARBRAL Nazional$ neo-liberal mess. Q&A needs an objective host rather than a COALition crony like David Spew.

    The rorts of the RAbbott Turdball Scummo luddite period of Australian politics must be addressed and those responsible held accountable, even to the level of removal from Parliament to prevent prosecution.

    Make haste slowly may be the preferred LABOR strategy, but Boofhead and Airhead have the Murdoch media-ocrity as supporters for anything except Australian voters. Perhaps it is time to limit ownership of Australian media to Australian single nationality citizens &/or corporations, as Fiji has already done.

    Why is Australia proposing to export energy to SE Asia rather than holding that same energy within our geographic borders, selling to manufacturing businesses at negligible cost and gaining jobs in Australia for Australian workers?

  2. Michael Taylor

    I suggest that the Honeymoon Period is over and it is now time for the Albanese LABOR government to step up to the plate…

    There is wisdom in what you say, NEC.

    When Rudd was replaced by Gillard, my team in the federal public service did an autopsy on what went wrong, given that earlier in his prime ministership Rudd had an approval rating that was off the charts.

    Ignoring the Murdoch influence, we deduced that Rudd didn’t fail… it was the public perception that he wasn’t doing enough to clean up the Howard mess. He just, simply, wasn’t living up to the public’s expectations.

    He was, of course, doing a great job. The voters, however, wanted miracles performed.

    Albanese would be wise to study history.

  3. Canguro

    Michael, is there any way that you can get that message into the PM’s Office? Pull strings, do a dance, whatever. It’s an important insight, the need to be aware of the undoings of previous Labor PM’s, the reasons why, and how to avoid such a fate. We cannot afford to have a slipsliding backwards of the public confidence in the current government towards the bizarre possibility that muttonhead is seen as a rational alternative, a disastrous scenario that will be bitterly regretted should it come to pass at the end of this or the next election cycle.

  4. Michael Taylor

    Canguro, unfortunately governments don’t listen to public servants. Public servants are there to do as they’re told.

  5. K

    Interesting analysis, especially concerning the US angle. Lest we forget the Great Depression in the 1920s, following the end of WW1…. Raises an interesting perspective on international relations over the last decade and the Anglo Saxon delusion that they have the answers, don’t it? We have finally got a dialogue going with China, thanks to Penny, a commonality of purpose, rather than the “us and them” rhetoric so evident in the recent past. I hope it continues, despite the political divide.

    And YES! Public servants will do what they are told, so best to provide clear instructions, and CONTEXT!

    😉

  6. Lawrence Roberts

    Albo is an old Leftie. Chalmers is a charming bloke. Labor are stuck with a bent table. Give them time.
    Patrick White said australia was blue skies and grey minds. The sky has changed but we have to start thinking differently. The treasurer is stuck with weird energy contracts inherited from Howard and Gillard?

    When we become a republic, let’s go back to first principles and fix taxes. No lawyer should be allowed into the process.

  7. Michaela

    Thanks for sharing Jim Chalmer’s enthusiasm , Denis

  8. K

    Thanks Michaela for that succinct synopsis. I’d be looking for anonymity myself, but you do you!

  9. Indigo

    Thanks Denis. I agree that Jim Chalmers is an enthusiastic treasurer with a wholesome mindset from younger days in Longan City and Griffith University Campus.

  10. Beyoncé

    Thanks Denis, great article! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Leila

    Good to see a representative from Logan City in the echelons of power and influence. King O’Malley in the Fisher Governments before the Great War did not make it to the job of Treasurer. Jim Chalmers is a good nemesis for our times whose abilities have been appreciated by the broader Labor Movement.

  12. Tessa_M

    Good national and regional planning saves people from future heartbreak.

  13. Stephen S

    Yeah, gotta love that “progressive mindset” and “national conversation”. If we technically avoid recession, it will be largely down to a manic return to all-time levels of immigration. Across the OECD, this is only exceeded by “progressive” Trudeau.

    “National conversation” for Big Australia 2.0 was our “Jobs and Skills” Summit. The Treasurer’s hand-picked gathering of 140-plus mass-migration devotees. With a humid “bromance” between BCA Westacott and ACTU McManus.

    As for the gas cartel, Albanese, Chalmers, Bowen and King show little “progressive” inclination to sort it, on behalf of ordinary Australians. Chalmers has gone out of his way to pity himself, as “scarred” by the miners’ removal of Rudd.

  14. Terence Mills

    I think Chalmers recognizes that the RBA does not have the ability or the tools to tackle inflation, much of which is imported by way of OPEC’s oil pricing cartel – yes I have a diesel vehicle which could I afford it would be going out the door in favour of an EV.

    The pattern of interest rate hikes should never have been permitted to flow on to existing home loans – all that does is put more money into banker’s bonuses – it doesn’t tackle inflation.

  15. Stella

    Denis, Thanks for promoting public discussion about Australia’s economic predicament. Looking to country’s that manage inflationary challenges, housing well is another good option.

  16. Barry Thompson.

    NEC. Well said, and I agree completely.

  17. rubio@central coast

    The AIM audience also seems to want more daring responses to the current social and income divide. This repricates the responses from the responses from the Q&A forum. I think the Treasurer actually anticipated these responses as a cautious greenlight to ditch the old LNP ideology to herald the arrival of a one party neoliberal state. But the wider community is not responding to these challenges particularly in Labor heartland electorates. How can more disadvantaged people be mobilised?

  18. James Robo

    Peter Dutton’s nostalgia for old ways will keep him out of government until he is replaced by a more contemporary leader.

  19. wam

    a beaut read denis,
    the employment of septic sub advisors reminds me of the robb er ring in his china fta, which the chinese signed with reckless speed, and gave the rabbott’s flunkey a part time $750000.
    michael.
    The gov used to listen to public servants till two developments broke the back of the service top end.
    The first was the demolition of seniority in favour of favourites and the second was service contracts that destroyed the all round expertise and replaced them with inexperienced thin skilled experts.

  20. Silent Majority

    If the LNP had any ethical bones, it would negatiate alternatives to Stage 3 Tax cuts. Such bad policies will be finally ditched by the new government but only if there is a real groundswell from public opinion, I cannot see any sign of this campaign in progrtess, It is a missed opportunity. Why can’t the ACTU organise something?

  21. wam

    SM The vast majority, I am kidding myself, 100%of the non-silent cohort get the benefit of the cuts. The lnp has been up to their eyeballs for a flat tax and this is close. The disingenuous pricks goon about bracket creep without any wage growth. The turds in labor are looking after my health because I am rapidly reaching the acceptance of the ALLNP and not expecting any rapid movement nor being upset with shuffling up down back and marking time.
    The unions should follow the path of the police union.

  22. Denis Bright

    Some welcome responses from readers who follow political issues but I think that the silent majority remains silent: Perhaps readers could assist by sharing articles.

  23. Michael Taylor

    Denis, Facebook aren’t helping anymore.

    They now won’t put our articles on our Facebook follower’s timelines unless we pay $23 per 758 members. Our Facebook page has over 23 thousand followers, so for each of our posts to go on all our follower’s timelines (like they used to do up until two weeks ago) will cost us $700. We don’t have that sort of money.

    As a result, our Facebook traffic has fallen about 90%.

  24. Denis Bright

    Thanks Michael. Never had much success uploading my articles onto F/B to the three hundred or so people on my friends’ list. I assumed that politically aligned friends found my articles to be too independent and blocked my posts from these AIM Network articles.

  25. Michael Taylor

    It’s only Facebook pages (like The AMN) where I’ve seen the ‘option’ to promote posts – for a fee, and not on an individual’s account or on a group.

  26. leefe

    Michael:

    I’ve seen engagement in some of my favourite FB groups dropping dramatically recently; some of this is definitely directly related to FB not pushing notifications despite user settings.
    Suckerberg is as bnad as Musk. It’s primarily about social engineering to maintain status, wealth and income.

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