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Get ready for budget spin

Wayne Swan
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We haven’t heard much from Wayne Swan since Labor left office in September.

In parliament he cuts a forlorn figure, one row from the front, occasionally reacting to the taunts of Joe Hockey, the man who replaced him as treasurer.

For eight months, Swan rolled with the punches as the Abbott government created a “debt and deficit disaster” out of his “failed” six years in charge of the federal budget – one of them as Euromoney magazine’s world’s best finance minister.

Joe Hockey
Crunching the numbers: Joe Hockey

This week, a few days out from Hockey’s first budget, Swan came out swinging.

Petty, spiteful, cynical and infantile was how he described the Abbott government.

And just in case you weren’t sure about the depth of his feelings, it was also a government of excessive partisanship and vicious vindictiveness.

As for Tony Abbott, well Swan lamented, there wasn’t a leader lurking behind the brawler or a statesman behind the bomb thrower.

Welcome to budget trash talk.

You’ll be hearing a lot of it, and its cousin spin, during the next few days.

Let’s go back a year to remind us what Swan said in his final budget.

He forecast a balanced budget in 2015/16, with a return to surplus in 2016/17; the economy would grow at 2.75 per cent and unemployment would hit 5.75 per cent.

And he reminded us that for the first time ever, the commonwealth had a triple-A credit rating from all three global agencies with a stable outlook – one of only eight countries to do so.

“That is because we got the big calls right on the economy,” Swan insisted.

Not so, countered Abbott two days later. How could the treasurer be so confident of delivering a skinny surplus after revealing a forecast $23 billion deficit had grown to to $44 billion?

“Even if the treasurer is right, it will take 100 years of Swan surpluses to repay just four years of Swan deficits,” the future prime minister said.

Of course, we’ll never know.

What we do know, thanks to the government’s national commission of audit, is that business as usual will bequeath us 16 consecutive budget deficits and net debt approaching $450 billion.

That, according to Hockey and Abbott, is on one day a budget emergency, the next a budget crisis, and the one after that a debt and deficit disaster.

Bill Shorten
The opposition leader’s time to shine. Photo: AAP

Labor says all three descriptions are confected, at odds with reality, to provide cover for a more insidious political agenda.

Or to use Swan’s words: fiscal fabricators instilling a general sense of fear.

And there’s been plenty of that in the lead-up to the budget, largely due to government kite-flying, reaction to the commission of audit’s agenda and Labor mischief-making.

If you believe Bill Shorten, hard-working Australians will wake up the morning after budget day to find themselves paying two per cent more income tax.

The likely reality is that it will be the opposition leader and those like him, who earn more than $180,000 a year, paying more.

Fortunately for the wealthy, Shorten has committed Labor to fight “tooth and nail” to vote down any temporary tinkering of the top marginal tax rate.

If Abbott is worried about voter reaction, let alone some of his own MPs, to pre-budget speculation, he’s not showing it.

“I’m going to be able to look people in the eye on Tuesday night and on Wednesday morning and beyond and say we are all in this together,” he said this week.

And if we all do our bit, “we can chip away at the disastrous inheritance” Labor left the coalition.

If that doesn’t convince us, there’s always Abbott channelling John F Kennedy, the late US president.

In his 1961 inauguration speech, Kennedy implored Americans to ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Abbott’s take is to ask Australians to look at the budget not by focusing on “what’s happening to me” but “what’s happening to us”.

“This will not be a budget for the rich or the poor; it will be a budget for the country.”

AAP

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