my translation of swan’s budget speech

DECIPHERING the true meaning of budget speeches can be something of a dark art. Since time began, Treasurers of all stripes have taken to the dispatch box on budget night to pledge a stronger economy; one that promotes jobs while also spreading opportunity for all. Reading between the lines can provide a more meaningful picture:

ON CONVICTION

“The purpose of this Labor government, and this Labor budget is to put the opportunities that flow from a strong economy within reach of more Australians … This budget is built on our firmest convictions: that just as our focus on jobs helped Australia beat the global recession, so too can a focus on jobs ensure we maximise our advantages in the Asian Century.”

Translation: “I know you guys have been wondering what on earth we stand for, so this is my attempt to spell it out. I had thought you lot might give me some credit for saving you from recession, but I’ve come to accept you won’t. So here it is: aside from being Keynesian wizards, being a Labor government is about getting people into work, easing the cost of living by managing inflation and getting the budget back into surplus.”

PATCHWORK ECONOMY

“Our patchwork economy grows unevenly across the nation . . . For some, talk of an investment boom seems divorced from reality. Wages are growing, yet many live pay cheque to pay cheque. Not every region prospers.”

Translation: “Remind me why we floated the dollar again? Nah, just kidding. I know we can’t stop the dollar rising, but I’m also keenly aware a higher dollar is hurting some key industries (tourism and manufacturing). Part of me wants to point out that average wages are still growing, strongly, but I know a good deal of this just goes towards lining the pockets of truck drivers in the Pilbara. So I’ve got this dilemma: the biggest mining boom since gold rush days is helping some parts of the economy and hindering others. So people ask if this mining boom a good thing or a bad thing? Bit of both really. Confusing.”

JOBS JOBS JOBS

“The economy cries out for workers . . . better training is essential for the workforce our economy needs, as is encouraging, rewarding and insisting on the participation of more workers . . . In a growing economy like ours, we cannot justify the fourth highest proportion of jobless families in the developed world.”

Translation: “Come on, you lot, get a haircut and get a real job. The unemployment rate already has a “4” in front of it and my Treasury boffins tell me that this is below the level that is compatible with low inflation. If you don’t all get busy, and fast, all those people already in jobs will figure out they’ve got the upper hand and start demanding higher wages. And higher wages spells inflation. So there’s only so much cajoling I’m prepared to do to get you off the couch and into a job. If encouraging and rewarding don’t work, I’ll insist you work by removing benefits and beefing up job search requirements.”

HELPING REGIONS

“We want prosperity and opportunity to reach all corners of the nation, especially our outer suburbs and regional towns . . . This budget delivers for regional Australia like no budget before it.”

Translation: “You probably thought the Coalition was best friend to the country, but we’ve got some country mates we need to keep onside too. If this slim majority of a government we’ve managed to cobble together is going to last much longer, we need to keep the country independents onside. And you country folk have been giving your independent MPs such a hard time lately, about selling out to Labor and all that, we decided to ask them what size of lolly they’d need in this budget to keep their electorates onside. Big lolly, as it turns out.”

SURPLUS

“We’ll be back in the black by 2012-13, on time, as promised. The alternative — meandering back into surplus — would compound the pressures in our economy and push up the cost of living for pensioners and working people.”

Translation: “By George, I’ve done it! You wouldn’t believe the number of late nights at Treasury, the fiddling and jiggling it took to achieve it, but we’ve managed to keep the budget in slim surplus in 2012-13. The alternative — of missing this entirely self-imposed and completely arbitrary deadline — would be to expose ourselves to no end of huffing and puffing from Tony Abbott, and we decided it would just be easier just to keep our word. The boffins say it doesn’t really matter if we’re in slim surplus or deficit, but they do seem pleased that we’re so keen to cut spending to achieve it. From the look on their faces, that doesn’t happen very often.”

SAVINGS

“We don’t take our savings decisions lightly and we take no joy from making them. But we take comfort in knowing they are right and necessary to ensure we don’t compound the pressures of the boom.”

Translation: “Thank goodness this isn’t an election-year budget. We’d never have got away with cutting payments to families otherwise, even if they are on higher incomes. But you know, it’s mostly rob-from-the-rich stuff, so they’re probably Liberal voters anyway. So while we’re a bit worried about how this will wash with you voters, we’re willing to take a punt that you would beat us up even harder if we didn’t cut back on spending and support the Reserve Bank in trying to take some of the heat out of the economy and inflation. No voter likes budget cuts, but I reckon they hate seeing milk prices rise even more.”

CARBON PRICE

“We believe this budget, our tax reforms, and our plans for a carbon price, will set Australia up for the prosperous future all our people deserve.”

Translation: “Whoops, I almost forgot to mention the carbon price again. More on that later, I promise . . .”

Click here for full text of speech (you’ll have to translate the rest yourself).

GHOSTS OF BUDGET SPEECHES PAST…

WAYNE SWAN
2010 “It is a tribute to every Australian that tonight we face our challenges from a position of strength … not sifting through the rubble of recession.”
2009 “This budget is forged in the fire of the most challenging global economic conditions since the Great Depression.”
2008 “[This] budget strengthens Australia’s economic foundations and delivers for working families under pressure.”

PETER COSTELLO
2007 “For the 10th time, I am outlining a budget that will be in surplus.”
2006 “We will reduce the marginal tax rates at the upper end of the income scale.”
2005 “Tonight I announce the largest ever program designed to assist those on welfare move out of welfare and into work.”
2004 “The budget I am announcing tonight involves huge expenditures of nearly $200 billion.”
2003 “Tonight I will announce further measures to upgrade Australia’s security and border protection.”
2002 “This is a budget to keep Australia safe, our borders secure and to keep our economy strong.”
2001 “At the end of this budget year we will have repaid nearly $60 billion of Labor’s $80 billion debt spree … As we get the debt monkey off our back, we save on interest payments.”
2000 “On July 1 we introduce a new tax system, one of the largest structural changes to the Australian economy — probably the largest — since World War II.”

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