Last night, Tony Abbott’s Australian government gave a free course on what not to do with a national budget. As Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered his Budget Night speech, more and more Australians had a sinking feeling in their stomach. After every sentence the politician delivered, someone had the startling thought of, “He is talking about me.” Women, the disabled, the elderly, students, and the unemployed all received the news that they were about to shoulder the arduous burden of their country’s fiscal responsibilities. Joe Hockey was not just the bearer of bad news, he was also one of its creators. In line with his boss’ ideological directives, Hockey followed Tony Abbott’s lead in creating one of the most depressing budget nightmares Australia has seen in a long time amid calls from many that there is simply no reason for it.
The fallout from Budget Night started Wednesday morning in Australia as the winners and losers of the 2014 budget were calculated. One political party, the Greens party, posted a simple picture on Facebook in order to explain what they saw as the outcome of the budget. For them, the budget had only one name in the winner column: big business. Business certainly did receive a boost from the new budget with announcements of a tax cut for businesses, payments for hiring people over the age of 50, and one billion dollars given to business for compliance and regulation. If the current government gets its way in the Senate, there will also be a cut of the mining and carbon taxes which will benefit businesses in the mining sector and others. Overall, it does look like big business won on budget night, which is what the treasurer meant in his speech when he told business that the government needs to “help you out.”
In the loser column, there were a lot more names, including young people, families, people on pensions, the disabled, anyone who needs to visit a doctor, and many more. Based on Joe Hockey’s speech, the claim that these groups are losers seems to be true. Despite promising that there would be no changes to pensions, Hockey announced changes to pensions right after he said “we won’t” make changes to pensions. Families with children will lose the Family Tax Benefit Part B and more family incomes will have to come from what Hockey calls “personal effort rather than from the government.” Young people will now be faced with the prospect of “earn or learn,” meaning that if they do not have a job or are not enrolled in school, they will not be eligible for any assistance from the government. There will now be a seven dollar copayment for anyone who needs to visit a doctor. And people who are on disability pensions, which are already difficult to get, will be forced to “work for the dole” or lose their small income altogether. After Joe Hockey’s speech, all of these groups of people felt like they had been punched in the gut.
But private individuals are not the only people who feel they have been hit unfairly. The morning after the budget announcement saw the premiers of the states calling for fair play. Campbell Newman, the premier of Queensland and the current chairman of the Council of Australian Federation, said that many of the changes that affected state governments had been made without notice. He also called changes to healthcare and education unacceptable from the viewpoint of state governments. The other Australian premiers are also in agreement with Campbell and have called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to convene an emergency meeting in order to discuss these changes. The Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls said that they would “take up the cudgels” with the federal government in order to make sure the state governments were being treated fairly by Tony Abbott’s new nightmare budget.
Abbott and his federal government may have done what they wanted to with the 2014 budget, but they now face stiff opposition and not just from other politicians. On one television morning show, the prime minister fielded a question from a pensioner named Vilma who told him that if pensioners “tightened their belts” more than they already had, they would “choke” on them. She also called the budget “rubbish” and told Mister Abbott that he was a comedian. It looks like Abbott and the rest of his cabinet are not going to have an easy time selling their budget to the regular voters.
Few people like the new budget that Abbott and Hockey have cooked up for Australia, but they have tried to sell the idea as a way to get the country out of a budget emergency. That would be a good selling point, except that many people are saying that there simply is no budget emergency at all. Clive Palmer, a billionaire and somewhat flashy member of parliament, told the ABC in an interview that there is no debt crisis in Australia. He went on to say that it had been manufactured in order to allow the Abbott government to make an “ideological budget” that “can hit people they don’t like.” Palmer’s accusation may seem extreme, but he is not the only entity saying there is no budget emergency. Commonwealth Bank released an Economic Insights document which unequivocally states that the much vaunted budget emergency does not exist. It looks like the government’s primary defense for their huge cuts evaporates in the face of scrutiny, taking away the one legitimate reason to burden so many Australians.
The Australian government has created a serious problem for itself with the announcement of its 2014 budget. The Australian people are calculating the costs and weighing them against the benefits and finding that it just is not worth it. State governments are already up in arms about proposed changes to their economic standing. There is no evidence for a budget emergency and pensioners are actively lashing out at the prime minister for his horrible budget. The treasurer is already sweating as hard questions are thrown at him and he will not be the only member of the government who feels the heat. Tony Abbott and his government have created a nightmare for themselves with this new budget and it is only the first day after its announcement.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury