It’s that time of the year when we look at the federal Budget (seasonally adjusted), and the Treasurer has announced a $213 billion deficit
We have no complaints: Governments need to spend money according to the circumstances and with a national government debt reaching $944 billion, the main benefit the Australian electorate will receive is an end to the maniacal debates about “debts and deficits” and “how ya gonna pay for it”.
Don’t believe the neoliberalist tripe: governments can always pay for the things they need to pay for, austerity will never resolve economic problems.
Anthony Albanese’s Budget Reply speech was regarded as “a line in the sand”, and a “make or break” moment by many in the media.
Of course, a Leader of the Opposition is always going to be under pressure to perform, and this year is no different.
His Budget Reply speech hit all the right points and focused on universal child care and early education and a streamlined national energy grid.
But will it be enough to close down the background murmurings about his leadership?
The COVID Recession, or the Morrison Recession? We suggest all the economic data and evidence points to the Morrison Recession, and we’re surprised it has taken Labor so long to start using this well-deserved moniker.
It’s the result of seven years of poor economic management by the Liberal–National Government; the coronavirus sealed the deal. There is absolutely no question about this, despite the media arguing the opposite.
In this episode:
- The 2020 budget in all of its glory and shades of red ink;
- Anthony Albanese, the ‘sink or swim’ Budget Reply;
- And it was good enough for Paul Keating, so it should be good enough for the Prime Minister: we have a good look at Scott Morrison’s recession, the recession we didn’t really have to have.
EJ: It’s the first budget of the Morrison government that was elected way back in May 2019, and it’s also the first budget since the coronavirus commenced.
Josh Frydenberg’s Budget is going to run at a massive deficit of $213 billion and that’s at the most optimistic of all optimistic levels.
It’s based on a coronavirus vaccine becoming available in October 2021, all internal borders within Australia being opened up by then, and the assumption that the economy will grow by 4.
25 per cent in 2021, a figure that wasn’t even achieved during the last mining boom and a figure that hasn’t been reached since 1999 – that’s over 21 years ago.
The government just had to spend money during this pandemic, there’s absolutely no question about that, but there’s a lot of people who have been left behind within this Budget: There’s tax cuts for people on higher incomes; there’s nothing for lower income families or the unemployed; there’s not much there for women; childcare and early education, there’s not much there either; and humanities courses at universities will double in cost.
The Government keeps wanting the economy to return to the way that it was before but new economic thinking is needed, not the old neo-liberalist ways that haven’t been able to support national economies during a time of crisis.
Perhaps Josh Frydenberg wasn’t joking when he said that he’d looked to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan for inspiration; that’s a comment that he made a couple of months ago.
DL: I don’t think he was, and I don’t think he has the intellectual capacity to realise the flaws in that system, the system has been well tested for the last 30 years and has been found wanting.
It excludes way too many people.
It enriches non-productive people.
It encourages corruption.
It encourages poor government.
It encourages the breakdown of necessary services.
I don’t think Josh has it in him to even to see this.
It’s not about being right wing or left wing, I think if you look at it objectively, the right wing has some very good ideas that, if applied properly, might just work – the idea of individual entrepreneurship, I think it is something that should be encouraged, but they don’t really encourage it, do they? It’s all for established money and the nouveau riche, based on non-productive economic models.
The other thing we have to remember about the Budget is very little of the last seven budgets have been passed.
I can’t remember how many actually weren’t passed, I’ll be surprised if this one finally gets through in all its ideas – I know that the university reforms seem to have gone through with Central Alliance – it would be interesting to see what doesn’t make it through.
EJ: The past seven budgets haven’t actually been approved, I’d say that this one probably will go through the Senate.
The 2019 Budget was actually announced on the day before the election was called.
This particular Budget has got a deficit of $213 billion, ultimately, there will be $966 billion in national government debt, or 44 per cent of gross domestic product – that’s not actually a big deal when you compare it with economies around the world.
Before the pandemic started, the government debt-to-GDP ratio was around 2 per cent , and I think got up to around 10 per cent, compared to many other countries in the OECD, which hovered between 50 per cent and 150 per cent of GDP, Australia’s not traveling too badly.
The main benefit that will come out of this is within the public discourse about debts and deficits.
We won’t see the LMP complaining about debts and deficits for a long, long time.
DL: The figures don’t play in their favour, and the other thing that’s not fully comprehended or said by a lot of the media, is that two thirds of this debt was before the pandemic.
They grew it very quickly.
After 2013, they didn’t actually change the rate of borrowing.
I don’t think they will just able to hide it behind the pandemic.
EJ: Budgets in Australia are always highly political documents.
They do have to boost confidence in the economy, especially at this particular point of time in history, but they also have to spend money in the right areas.
This one doesn’t seem to spend the money in the right areas.
When the coronavirus pandemic commence in Australia.
The federal government did say there was going to be a non-ideological government as far as its response was concerned, whether that’s political responses or economic or definitely health wise.
They said all of their ideology was going to be parked at the door.
But is is a very ideological budget.
It’s an uncreative budget.
It’s more in line with getting the economy back to business as usual, but new thinking is needed – we’ve mentioned this in quite a few podcasts in the past.
The old economy just isn’t returning, so it’s a highly ideological budget.
It’s anti women.
It’s anti all of the traditional foes of the Liberal–National Party.
Humanities courses will be boosted up to $14,000 in HECS fees per year.
This is supposedly an incentive for people to do the ‘job focused’ courses, something which universities aren’t really meant to be all about.
What if you’ve got a case where a humanity student has got no interest at all in science or mathematics or nursing? What are they meant to do? Just give up their appreciation of humanities and then go and do a science or a nursing course? It does doesn’t make sense I think.
DL: Dan Tehan, the unimpressive minister for education, all his degrees, as far as I can tell are humanities degrees – it’s foreign affairs and things like that – said that he wants people to be able to get jobs.
Now a good arts degree or a good general science degree will get you plenty of jobs.
They’re not about training you up to the industry standard, they’re about training your intelligence, they’re about training, how you think, they’re about analysis, they’re about appreciation of culture and art, and people there about thinking.
This is what, of course, it seems the current LNP don’t want.
They don’t want you to think, because when you start thinking about what they’re doing, it doesn’t add up.
And this again is in the left-wing/right-wing perspective.
This is a perspective of looking at it as what are they trying to achieve? How are they achieving it? And are they achieving that, and what they’re telling you on what is happening is often two different things.
EJ: A lot of our listeners might be thinking, why are you so focused on this, the increase in the HECS fees for humanities courses, when there’s so many other things within the Budget that can be attacked? And for sure, there’s a lot of things within this Budget that can be attacked.
For me, this entire idea of having a go at the humanities, doubling the HECS fees for those courses shows where this Government is at – it’s not actually going to raise a huge amount of money for the Government – certainly not in the short term – but it shows the ideological positioning of this Government.
It’s like this old cultural war from many, many years ago.
It gives us an opportunity to look at the performance of the Centre Alliance as well, because they’re the ones that supported this in the Senate, in conjunction with One Nation.
And it’s an absolute shame on them.
Of course, within the Senate, you’re always going through a trading process where you give something, up in return for something else.
But they got virtually nothing in return.
They gave up too much for too little.
They ended up getting a 3.
5 per cent growth in places for South Australian universities.
Now that’s compared to 2.
5 per cent within the overall package.
So that means that they received an increase of 1 per cent of university places.
And there’s also some guarantees that failing students won’t get penalised in South Australia so severely.
They also asked for a reinstatement of the 10 per cent discount for upfront HECS payments, and that’s a discount which benefits students from higher-income families.
So what’s going on within the Central Alliance?
DL: It feels to me like the end of the Democrats.
Meg Lees went in and against the majority of her party’s feelings, agreed to a GST on what she thought was a good deal.
Really, it was not a good deal it all.
I can’t quite remember how long she lasted, but it was not 12 months before she was overthrown.
Then the Democrats basically imploded on themselves.
They still exist.
You can still join the Democrats, and they still run in elections.
But they’re not the force they used to be.
Democrats, of course, were formed by a group who included the well-known and I suppose you could call him ‘charismatic’, Don Chip.
Centre Alliance had the well known Nick Xenophon.
Now Xenophon left federal politics couple of elections ago, interestingly enough, claiming he wanted to keep on in South Australia.
A lot of people thought that he left because he probably wouldn’t get his Senate seat back, but without him as a focal point, Centre Alliance have struggled to retain any kind of presence.
If Twitter is anything to go by, Rebekha Sharkie is one of the most unpopular politicians in Australia at the moment, particularly in the seat of Mayo.
Having successfully seen off Liberal candidate Georgina Downer, she’s just gone and rolled over on one of the more unpopular Liberal policies.
EJ: Rebekha Sharkie, she actually did do a humanities course at Flinders University.
She’s supposedly independent, but she actually was a member of the Liberal Party, she was a Liberal Party staffer as well.
Maybe not as independent as people like to think she is.
DL: Minds change.
People move away from parties, but it gets suspicious when they say ‘I’m independent of this party’ and then start voting with it all the time on specious arguments, vote confidence in the government and a few other things.
But this is the type of thing where they could have really made a stand and be shown to be the type of party people thought they were voting for.
EJ: Including the Budget measures, this Liberal–National Government will have $385 billion at its disposal for recovery measures for stimulus packages.
There’s a whole lot of areas there where they can do some wonderful things within the economy, but this Budget, overall, it’s just not doing that.
They’re hell bent on this idea of returning the economy back to the way that it was before, but that’s just not going to happen.
DL: It’s all about maintaining the status quo, not because the status quo was any good but because it benefits a small number of their supporters.
The reason that we haven’t embraced renewables as much in a country like Australia should have is because companies like Fortescue Metals and Rio Tinto and those types of companies make a lot of money from it, and it’s within their interest and they pay a lot of money to the Liberal Party through direct donation, promotions through think tanks like the IPA.
It seems to keep the money where the money has notionally been for the last, maybe even up to 200 years.
You can’t beat the flow of history, and I think these people will be left behind and Australia with it.
EJ: Budgets are normally ‘here today, gone tomorrow’.
They provide an impetus for the government of the day, but we’ll probably forget about this Budget in a few weeks time.
But I guess the most important factor here is how is all of this going to sustain the economy and keep it from collapsing? There are questions about what will happen with the JobKeeper program after it expires in March 2021.
Ideologically, this kind of government is opposed to this type of program, and it will be interesting to see what happens or what replaces the job keeper program after the date.
There are other key stimulus programs that have been announced over the past six months, but they’re yet to be implemented.
This is a Budget that largely keeps on track with the ideological pursuits and habits off this government and it’s largely a missed opportunity to create economic conditions more suited to the circumstances.
DL: Given the assumption of a vaccine by October 2021 – it’s not impossible –let’s be fair on now.
One thing we got to remember is that it takes three to four years for most vaccines, or most medications to go through.
They need to be tested.
They need to be passed through fairly stringent or very stringent government requirements.
They need to be worked out how to be manufactured in a way that is economically viable for the company who did them.
We have never had a successful vaccine against any coronavirus, that includes things like SARS.
But again, more resources have been thrown at this one than ever before.
October 2021 is not out of the question.
And, very happy if it does comes out by October 2021.
We will talk about that in positive terms.
From a budgeting point of view, I think it’s a little bit too confident.
I suspect it will be closer to 2022 or 2023 before we can even look at these types of things.
And that’s where this projection should have started.
EJ: That is definitely one issue to look at – the arrival of the vaccine.
The timing of that, if it does actually indeed arrive at some point soon.
The other factor is the 4.
25 per cent prediction in growth.
The last time we had anything like those figures was back in 1999, it was the first quarter of the year.
Annual growth was at 5 per cent.
There was a pretty good economic year, but we just haven’t had anything like that since that since that time.
After a recession arrives, there is a boost in in productivity.
So it’s just a question of how long this recession goes on for, whether it ends up becoming a depression as well.
For the economy to start kicking back after six or seven months and for it to reach 4.25 per cent, that’s a heroic assumption, and I think a lot of other economists agree with that sentiment as well.
DL: Especially given that the last three Treasurers we’ve had haven’t actually been very good at promoting growth again.
If it happens, we will acknowledge it, and we’ll analyse it and possibly even praise it.
But they’ve shut out 51 per cent of the population.
Now, some of that population, this isn’t fully comprehended by a lot of people. Some of that population vote Liberal, and that makes a difference.
Women are a very important part of the economy. I’ve seen analysis of this Budget saying that it’s really to push women back into the home – good luck with that – I don’t think that will happen, I don’t think it should, by the way.
It’s a dud Budget, unless some rabbits come out of the hat.
It’s a Budget that a gambling addict might do if they were feeling particularly lucky.
It’s not a sensible, sober Budget looking at improving the whole of Australia.
I think that’s going to cost them a lot more political skin than they’ve already lost.
Anthony Albanese and his Budget Reply speech
EJ: Budget week is all about the numbers and finances, but it’s also about politics and perceptions and the Budget Reply, a tradition where the Leader of the Opposition can provide an alternative economic response to the nation.
Budgets are important documents for the future of a government, but the Budget Reply speech for Opposition leaders is also important, but in a different way.
It’s not about numbers or even the ideas that they’re presenting, because they’re just not in government.
But it’s about shoring up their own leadership, offering a blueprint for change when they return to government but also providing hope to other MPs within that political party and people in the electorate that support that political party as well.
Anthony Albanese hasn’t been performing so well since the pandemic started, but his Budget Reply speech focused on Labor values, areas such as universal childcare and a focus on reforming the national energy grid.
It was a competent Budget Reply; it ticked all the boxes of Labor values, but it didn’t seem to have the zing or the standout moments.
We’re almost halfway through the electoral cycle – will the Budget Reply provide an impetus for Labor to work towards the next election and shut down Albanese’s critics? Or will it become something else?
DL: He had enervated some of the Labor people.
There were people who were really impressed with how he performed.
And, the ‘Albo’ of fighting Tories seemed to be back.
Oppositions are hard gig, made easier by a media that will give you airtime, which Labor doesn’t get a lot of.
Well, when it does, it’s away negative.
It seems every time New South Wales ex-minister, Milton Orkopoulos is mentioned, he’s always mentioned as an ex-Labor member or ex-Labor politician, whereas if it’s a scandal on the Liberal side, it’s always just ‘politician’, without the party being mentioned, you can always tell what side it is.
I think Labor is trying its very best, Labor has some fairly impressive people on its side.
I think it’s got some people who seem impressive, but possibly aren’t either.
But getting into government normally sorts that out. I do think that there’s a good team there, whether they can cut through or whether the public will buy it is a whole other thing.
We’re way overdue for the restructure that has traditionally happened every 20 or 30 years with both parties.
The Liberal Party restructured when John Howard took over the first time.
Last time the Labor Party really restructured was probably when Bill Hayden took over in 1977 but they were both very quiet restructures, and they were to deal with the new economic thinking at the time.
EJ: It’s almost like politics moving so quickly for any sort of structural reform for any political party, unless the day after an election lost, you decide: ‘okay, we’re going to be out of office for the next six years, let’s sit down and start reforming the political party from day one’.
That’s an unusual predicament for a political party to decide, and I can’t remember the last time that sort of process started happening.
Because the day after you lose an election, you start preparing to win the next election, and that’s the way that it usually works.
And with that idea of the speed of politics, I noticed that Anthony Albanese, the key point that he focused his Budget Reply on, was universal childcare.
We haven’t actually got universal childcare, within his proposal is to fund 90 per cent of childcare and early education. Early education and child care, it’s actually been in a funding mess for a long, long time.
The sector, overall, is fairly well managed, and it’s got reasonable regulations now.
But the funding of it has been an absolute mess ever since the Howard Government changed the direct operational subsidies back in 1997.
It’s got a funding mix between three tiers of government, that’s local councils in some cases, state governments and federal governments, subsidies, payments made to parents, subsidies made to early childhood services as well. They’d probably be better off attaching early education to the primary school sector.
And I guess that’s the thing that Anthony Albanese is trying to get back to. 90 per cent of funding for childcare and early education, it’s not universal, but it’s getting pretty close.
DL: I think it’s the right move.
Childcare is hideously expensive.
Yet ironically, the people in childcare, the front line workers in childcare are underpaid.
There’s other expenses, of course, you’ve got to maintain the buildings and pay rent and have the best programs that you can get.
I don’t think anybody really minds the expense of it, but they mind where is it going.
And you’re right, it’s a total mess. There’s a lot of money that doesn’t seem to appear quite where it should.
And this is, of course, not to disparage individual childcare centres, the majority of whom do a really excellent job under challenging circumstances. It still needs more transparency, and I think it’s another one of those areas.
It should be just straight out nationalised, just for fairness, for equality, for the ability of the hold standards across the country without unfair advantage.
EJ: One other main area Albanese focused upon within the Budget Reply speech was creating streamlining the national energy and electricity grid – it’s not to nationalise the grid but create a system that will harness all the energy sources, including renewable energies, and harnessing that into a more efficient network that will deliver $40 billion worth of benefits for the Australian economy.
The main reason why Albanese is proposing that is that it’s in response to the government’s mismanagement of energy supply over the past seven years and its failure to develop any meaningful or comprehensive policy for the energy sector.
DL: Once again, a great idea.
New South Wales sold off its retail sector so that now most of your electricity bill in New South Wales goes to paying director’s fees and consultancy fees and doesn’t actually go to the service of electricity.
I think that’s a great idea from Labor to put it back and, again, it’s about access.
It’s about having a stable electrical network so that whether you’re right next to the generator or 100 kilometres away, you could get a good, clean, uninterrupted supply.
I think it’s a great idea and I think it should, again, be government-based rather than private.
EJ: Budgets and Budget Replies, they’re always political documents, and the way they are received within by the public.
That’s going to be a political process.
Scott Morrison has labelled Anthony Albanese’s Budget Reply as ‘divisive’, and to me, that’s a bit rich, coming from one of the most divisive and most destructive prime ministers we’ve had in a long, long, long, long time.
Anthony Albanese promoted the idea of universal childcare – I can’t see that much division in in that sort of process.
He’s a proposed reforming the national electricity grid – I can’t see that as being too divisive.
What was Scott Morrison going on about here when he was talking about the Budget Reply speech being a divisive document?
DL: It’s a little bit – I don’t know if you call it psychological projection or if it’s more of the childhood taunt of ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ Scott Morrison has News Corp on his side and Channel 9 on his side, which includes Fairfax.
There’s been some good stuff in the Sydney Morning Herald, I’ll happily to admit that, but mostly he gets a soft run in the press.
I think he wants to posit Anthony Albanese and Labor as being divisive so he can come across as a unifying leader.
I don’t quite know if the public is that dumb.
I think he’s been terribly divisive, I think he’s been terribly, poor in communicating a message.
And I don’t think he has a unifying bone in his body, I think he can only work through division and argument, not through consensus and discussion.
EJ: Albanese and the Labor Party, seems like they have worked their way towards a sustainable political and economic narrative.
But there’s still a lot of low-level murmurings behind the scenes about whether Albanese will lead the Labor Party to the next election, and I think he probably will do that unless everything changes dramatically – and that’s always got to be a possibility within politics.
We’ve mentioned this before, but they’re not performing badly within the polls.
But it’s always a question of whether they’ve got the right team in place that can communicate their political and economic narrative in a way that connects more clearly with the electric.
Do they need to sharpen their attacks on the government? They’ve got so much material to work with on this government; there’s corruption, there’s mismanagement, there’s poor ministerial performances.
During the past week in the lead up to Albanese’s Budget Reply, there was a great deal of speculation within the media that this is a make-or-break moment for Albanese, and it had to signal a turning point for the Labor Party where they had to start taking it up to the government if they wanted to have any decent chance of winning at the next election.
And the question always has to be, well, we’re in the middle part of the electoral cycle. It’s 18 months into this term of government. What has the Labor Party actually being doing for the past 18 months and why is it taking this long to start ‘taking it up to the government’.
I’m not suggesting that they’ve been doing nothing for the past 18 months – and it is very, very hard work being in the Opposition. But why wait until now, halfway through the electoral cycle?
DL: I’m wondering if part of the tactic was to let the Government fall over, and then they’ve watched them fall over a few times and then had no consequence.
So they spent a couple of months working out a tax strategy, given that the government’s going to be propped up.
I’ve said before Morrison isn’t a popular figure in the way that John Howard was – and a lot of Labor voting listeners have just let out a snort of derision.
But really, he was very popular amongst a certain segment of the community, nowhere near as Bob Hawke or Kevin Rudd.
He’s more of a tolerated ‘well, you know he’s there, and it’s a tough job and someone’s got to do it’.
And at the moment, it’s a type of grudging acceptance rather than than than a love.
I think Labor are using the three years between electoral cycles more cautiously in a sense than perhaps people want them to. And I think they’re going on a ‘slow and steady wins’, the race strategy rather than a Tony Abbott say – just oppose everything and let the consequences fall they do, which electorally was successful for Tony Abbott. But in every other sense, it wasn’t and I think Labor has realised that, too.
EJ: You can’t start beating the drum from day one, because you get sick and tired of beating that drum for a three-year period and making as much noise and trying to get as much political capital is possible.
But I guess that’s another way of looking at it, or another perspective.
Why should Labor use all of its political energy, all of its political processes, and resources to attack a government in the first 18 months of a political cycle, when all the energy should be in the second half of the cycle? People forget what probably happened in September 2019 or August 2019.
By the time the next election arrives – which could either be 2021 or 2022 – all of this will be old history. People won’t be able to remember a thing from a year ago or two years ago, but I guess it’s that overall perception of competence that ends up being the big sticking point for the electorate.
DL: There’s talk of a an early election.
I don’t believe it. I don’t think if he was three or four seats ahead and you could afford to lose two seats and still scrape through and maybe improve your position in the Senate.
But I don’t think the people who are doing the thinking in the Liberal Party, and for all the criticism we might give them, they’re very good elections. I don’t think that with only one seat up for grabs, he’d be game, because you only need to lose two and you’re done.
And I think the pork barrelling, the community grants and all that, I don’t think that will work this time. I think that was your one shot because there were seats that missed out who will remember that type of thing.
I’m not going to say they won’t call one, but if they do call one, I’d be surprised.
I’d wonder what they’re hiding up their sleeve, to get that net gain of a couple of seats to maintain their position.
Scott Morrison’s Recession, the recession we really didn’t need to have
EJ: The Australian economy is now officially in recession.
But there are many in the media that I came to let everyone know that this is all being caused by the coronavirus pandemic, even though all the evidence suggests Australia was careering towards a recession due to the poor economic management from the liberal national government ever since they returned to office in 2013.
The economy was already in per capita recession in late 2019 and reached negative growth for the March 2020 quarter after narrowly avoiding a negative quarter in December 2019 and many economists were predicting a recession was unavoidable.
And this was way before the coronavirus hit in March this year.
Here’s Scott Morrison trying his best:
Scott Morrison: well, this is the why we’ve designed the Budget the way we have Leigh.
This is why we’ve done it at such a scale, we’re dealing with a enormous challenge when it comes to the coronavirus recession, and the pandemic that caused it.
…and here’s the ABC doing their best to come to the rescue.
First of all, pitching to an economist:
Leigh Sales: Andrew, Anthony Albanese use the term, the ‘Morrison Recession’ again tonight and we’ve heard him using that in recent weeks.
Is anyone really going to buy that all of this is Scott Morrison’s fault? What’s the Opposition Leader hoping to achieve with that line?
…and now claiming Labor is insulting the intelligence of the Australian public:
Leigh Sales: You’ve been using the term, the ‘Morrison Recession’ recently, you used it again in your speech tonight.
Australian’s aren’t stupid, they see what’s happening globally, who do you believe thinks it’s all Scott Morrison’s fault?
EJ: The 1990 recession was rightly referred to as Paul Keating’s recession.
No-one ever referred to it as the ‘recession of 10 years of failed international neo-liberal policies’, even though that’s what primarily caused that recession and the high interest rates at the time.
Despite what the media is saying, this is Morrison’s recession.
I’m just surprised that it’s taken Labor so long to start using the term when it’s been so evident all along.
DL: It’s always circumstances, you know, it’s the ‘bushfire recession’.
We forget that too, after the bushfires, ‘no wonder we’re in recession, it’s the bushfires’.
But the bushfires weren’t the major driving factor behind the recession.
This is not at all to play down the impact the bushfires had on the communities and on the economy.
They accelerated things, but they didn’t cause it.
The coronavirus too now.
And the other thing we should by mindful off is that bushfires followed by a pandemic are not usual government challenges.
But both were avoidable.
Bushfires came out because of, terrible environmental policy on behalf of the government, and the pandemic came about because of terrible health policy on behalf of the government.
The economy was starting to crash.
And in November, which is before the full impact of the bushfires, we’d already hit that technical recession.
I think we would have hit full recession in probably the May–June quarter rather than the March quarter.