THE 2013-14 federal budget contained some rather interesting inclusions - and a few notable omissions - from an agricultural perspective.
But the biggest absence of them all and the most notable one was believability that our current federal Treasurer and the Labor government will be around after the September 14 election to deliver the reality of their forecast financial commitments and goals.
Talk of a strong economy with jobs and growth and targeted, sustainable savings of $43 billion over long-term forward estimates may have sounded good on paper, but were drowned out by an uncompromising focus on the immediate $18 billion deficit in the 2013-14 budget.
Especially when the $18 billion deficit was compared to the Treasurer’s fixation with delivering a modest budget surplus the previous year and ramifications of the creative financials which underpinned that political goal.
The political message may have changed this year but the budget result was similar – no new money for agricultural incentives and relief at being spared the treasurer’s ruthless knife.
Some other aspects of budget day remained consistent, including the huge swell of journalists descending on Canberra from all corners of the nation, to interrogate the government’s books during the intense budget day lock-up at Parliament House.
Wayne Swan also entered the lock-up for his mandatory Treasurer’s press conference but the tone of that event carried a remarkably different mood to previous years.
There was a distinct lack of ferocity and vigour attached to most questioning directed at Mr Swan from the nation’s leading journalists and number crunchers.
Normally there’s a slight pause after each of the Treasurer’s answers and statements that’s met by an instant avalanche of hungry, competitive journalists firing a whirlwind of rapid questions, shouting and trying to win a response to accompany their specific line of inquiry.
It’s like a game of noisy, crowded musical chairs involving 200 crazed, dashing participants and when the music stops, there’s only one small chair to grab.
Sometimes people even start sitting down before the music ends and don’t get kicked out of the game for their false execution.
But when the music stopped at this budget conference, notable apprehension accompanied descent into that metaphoric chair, amid sideways glances and a nonplussed atmosphere of resignation of what’s about to unfold in a few months time at the polls.
Were we just watching a dead politician talking?
The strange atmosphere reflected a distinct lack of enthusiasm that can only be attributed to a forgone conclusion about the future and feeling that many of the budget’s predictions won’t ever eventuate.
Even veteran political analysts conceded this budget was like no other, with such a clear mood of resignation hanging over this current government’s future that it may well have been better to have Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey delivering the budget numbers.
Other analysts said it was the quietest budget night reaction they could recall with most observers merely waiting for election day so the nation can vote - and decide once and for all on the current Labor government’s fate.
The budget was also described as containing a patchwork of legacies from the ALP designed to generate dilemmas for the incoming government to repeal, even booby-trap, and stifle potential momentum.
Most observers are also saying that no matter what happens at the election, the nation needs a government, whatever the colour, with a clear mandate to deliver strong governance and policies.
In his defence, Mr Swan said his government didn’t approach the 2013-14 budget from the perspective of turning around Labor’s miserable fortunes in voter opinion polls.
He said they approached it from the perspective of doing what’s right for the nation and putting essential reforms in place to make the economy stronger and smarter and society fairer.
Mr Swan said he couldn’t live with himself if he delivered a budget that, in the face of the biggest revenue write-down virtually in history, ignored providing money for key reform areas like education improvement programs and disability spending, “because it was politically inconvenient”.
The government will be judged on this year’s budget, at the election, he said.
However it seems most people have already made up their mind how to vote and see 2013 as a year of wasted opportunity, delaying an inevitable political change, with the budget a sharp reflection of that lingering sentiment and frustration - even for agriculture.
With many farming and rural issues needing urgent attention in the lead-up to the federal election, Fairfax Agricultural Media bureau chief Colin Bettles wants to hear what action readers want from the nation’s political leaders. Each week Colin will take the best question and seek to have it answered by the relevant politician or bureaucrat in Canberra.
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