Tuesday, 7 April 2015

As we approach the Abbott Government's second set of Budget Papers due in May 2015 - a timely reminder of how far we are going backwards

Sky News on 3 April 2015 telling Australia what social media commentators have known since December 2013:

In the year ended 30 June 2013 the then Labor Federal Government reported total revenue of $338.7 billion, total expenses of $381.4 billion (est. 25.1% of GDP) and a fiscal balance deficit of $28 billion. Net government debt and net interest payments on that debt stood at stood at 10 and 0.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) respectively.

The Abbott Coalition Government was sworn in on 18 September 2013.

In the month Tony Abbott took hold of the reins of government the Department of Finance listed Australia’s net debt at $174.5 billion and an underlying cash balance (deficit) of $22.9 billion projected to fall to $18 billion by 30 June 2014.

The Abbott Government reported total revenue of $374.6 billion, total expenses of $415.2 billion (est. 26.2% of GDP) and a fiscal balance deficit for the year ended 30 June 2014 of $42.2 billion. At that time net government debt stood at 12.5 per cent of GDP and net interest payments at 0.6 per cent.

In February 2015 and just on halfway through the Abbott Government’s term in office, the Department of Finance listed net debt at $254.9 billion and an underlying cash balance (deficit) of $40.4 billion projected to fall to $40.3 billion by 30 June 2015. At which time net government debt is expected to be 13.9 per cent of GDP and net interest payments at 0.7 per cent of GDP.

So why did budget deficit and public debt increase so dramatically in those first nine months and why is it barely decreasing to date?

Well, there have been signposts along the way and the most obvious place to start is with the borrowing spree that Treasurer Joe Hockey went on almost from Day One of the Abbott Government.

By 4 December 2013 (after less than 3 months in office) Abbott Government borrowings were averaging in excess of $203 million a day. At 30 June 2014 borrowings stood in excess of $351 billion and the 2014-15 budget papers predicted that borrowings will be 23.3% of GDP by 30 June 2015.

Then there was the $8.8 billion grant to the Reserve Bank in October 2013 and the loss of est. $2.9 billion over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 financial years due to the repeal of the Mineral Resources Rent Tax.

Add to this the cost of The War On Terror conducted Abbott-style, which is conservatively estimated to cost $400 million in this year alone for troops deployed in the Syria region, plus the $5.3 million a month cost of an ongoing and inevitably fruitless search for a long gone commercial aircraft.

Throw in the approximately $4.7 million spent on the prime ministerial fleet of bomb-proof cars (which will be stationed around the country for Abbott's convenience) and the est. $250 million reportedly being spent on a new VIP aircraft sometime this year primarily for the prime minister's use .

Factor in the cost of servicing political egos found in the Dept. of Finance lists of parliamentary entitlements paid and the additional expense of VIP flights for political elites.

Add the est. $2.4 billion in tariff revenue foregone due to international trade agreements signed since 2013, along with the est. $86 million spent on two royal commissions into 'pink batts' and trade unions.

Pour in the mix that $400 million plus reportedly spent on hosting the G20 Summit in 2014.

Then toss in a reported $1 billion in public service redundancy payouts expected to flow from the Abbott Government's 'restructuring' of government departments and downsizing of the public service between September 2013 to 2016-17.

Insert the increasing costs of immigration detention and the in excess of $2 billion in contracts awarded in early 2104 for the management of two overseas detention centres. This equates to these contracts costing over $420 million annually. The National Commission of Audit's February-March 2014 report states the projected detention costs for all centres over the forward estimates currently exceeds $10 billion.

Top it all off with the unfair 2014-15 federal budget, which for all the ideologically driven pain it intended to inflict was expected to only save $27 billion over a four-year period and which has now been effectively gutted by the Abbott Government is a desperate grab for some degree of popularity.

Combine all of the above with Prime Minister Abbott's recent conversion to a 'debt is good' philosophy and it is easy to see why government finances are mired in red ink. With the non-Treasury document being circulated by the Treasurer, the March 2015 Intergenerational Report Australia in 2055, predicting net government debt could be as high as 60 per cent of GDP in forty years' time.

Now Tony Abbott has abandoned his 'debt and deficit disaster' rhetoric he has decided that the real budgetary crisis is actually federal government spending. Spending is probably the slowest growing line item in all the aforementioned figures, nevertheless Abbott was quoted in The Australian on 2 April 2015 as stating;even with the changes that we’ve already made, we’re still heading for government spending at around 31 per cent of GDP".

If all this sounds a mite confusing, remember one of the features of budget predictions and economic outlooks produced by the Abbott Government to date is that rarely do all of the documents contain the same basic assumptions or numbers. Since September 2013 creative writing not reliable economic policy appears to be the order of the day.

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