Labor’s Budget sets the stage for a long-term in office

In a Budget release that emphasises a cautious approach, Treasurer Jim Chalmers unveiled the Labor government’s financial plan for the coming year. The Budget, while receiving mixed reviews, reflects the party’s commitment to fulfilling its promises made during the 2022 federal election campaign. However, some critics argue that the Budget falls short in certain areas and misses opportunities for substantial reform.

One of the notable highlights of the Budget is the extension of the single parent payment, which will now continue until the youngest child turns 14. This move has been welcomed as a positive step towards supporting families. Additionally, Jobseeker payments have been increased by $20 per week, though some believe this increase is still insufficient to meet the needs of those relying on the welfare system.

However, the Budget also faces scrutiny for what it lacks. Expectations for increased revenue from the mining sector, particularly through improvements to the petroleum resources rent tax, have not been fully met. Critics point out that the projected $2.4 billion in additional revenue over the next four years falls short of expectations, given the substantial increase in iron ore revenues in the current financial year.

Despite its political nature, the most significant aspect of the Budget is its prediction of a $4 billion surplus. While this surplus is seen as an accomplishment, concerns arise regarding the support offered to individuals at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.

From an economic perspective, the Budget demonstrates responsible financial management. However, there is room for improvement, as some argue that the cautious approach could hinder progress. The government’s gradual shift in policy aligns with the belief that it is easier to rectify mistakes if the “ship of state” turns slowly, rather than implementing radical changes in hasty fashion. Nevertheless, critics argue that this approach underestimates the public’s desire for decisive action, especially considering the previous Coalition government’s unpopularity.

Reflecting on the mainstream media coverage of the Budget, there is a sense of disappointment regarding the lack of economic analysis; instead, the focus has shifted towards political analysis. This media narrative also provides partisan and simplistic interpretations of budget deficits and surpluses – Labor governments often face the perception that any positive outcomes are attributed to ‘luck’ or factors beyond their control, while budget deficits are typically viewed as negative. On the other hand, Liberal governments tend to receive more favourable assessments, whether they deliver deficits or surpluses, and these narratives shape public perception and influence political discourse.

Traditionally, the Liberal Party has been perceived as the “better economic manager”, often pointing out the lack of surpluses under Labor governments. However, this Budget surplus challenges that narrative, showcasing the Labor Party’s ability to achieve fiscal balance. The surplus, though modest, eliminates the notion that only the Liberal Party can deliver economic stability. During their nine years in office between 2013–2022, the Liberal–National Government failed to achieve a surplus, and this factor is further bolstering the Labor Party’s claims of economic competence.

This Labor government’s budget demonstrates a sense of purpose and commitment to the promises made during the 2022 election campaign. The focus is on laying strong foundations for a better future and addressing immediate cost-of-living pressures. Initiatives aimed at transitioning Australia into a renewable energy superpower reflect a forward-looking approach to sustainable growth and job creation.

While some supporters may express disappointment with the Budget’s cautious approach, it aligns with the government’s commitment to responsible governance. The Labor government understands the need for big reforms but also recognises the importance of delivering on promises made. The challenge lies in striking a balance between caution and proactive decision-making, ensuring that Australia moves forward while addressing the lingering effects of the previous government’s policies.

From a political standpoint, the Budget also presents challenges for the Liberal and National parties. The surplus achieved by the Labor government diminishes their argument of being superior economic managers. Their focus now shifts to addressing inflation and cost-of-living pressures, but these issues alone may not sustain their political message for the next few years. With negotiations required in the Senate to pass Budget measures, the Labor government’s plans may receive support from the Australian Greens, who have expressed some concerns but are likely to find common ground.

While the Labor government’s budget may not satisfy everyone’s expectations, it is seen as a reasonable building block for the future. The long-term vision and commitment to key issues such as renewable energy indicate a desire for progressive change. The challenges faced by any government, unexpected events, and evolving circumstances should also be taken into account when evaluating the achievements and shortcomings of political leadership. Looking ahead, the Labor government’s Budget sets the stage for a potential longer-term period in office, with the budgetary foundations now in place. The true test lies in executing their plans effectively and meeting the expectations of the Australian people. Only time will tell how this Budget – and subsequent Budgets – shape the nation’s trajectory, but for now, it serves as a significant step towards a brighter and better Australia.

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About David Lewis 11 Articles
David Lewis is co-presenter of the New Politics Australia podcast, historian, musicologist, musician and political scientist based in Sydney. His lecturing and research interests include roots music, popular music, Australian, UK and US politics and crime fiction. He has published in Music Forum Australia, Eureka Street, Quadrant, Crikey and has edited several books.