NOT so long ago the Budget process was a secret affair. Occasionally, leaks would appear in the papers and all hell would break loose amongst the public service as a culprit or a scapegoat was found to be blamed.
By a decade ago, the Government was purposefully leaking tidbits to raise interest in the Budget and to prepare the community for what was coming.
This year, as the journalists went into the Budget lock-up, they discovered that almost the whole Budget had been leaked. “Not leaked,” according to Treasurer Andrew Barr, “strategically released”!
Indeed. The Budget leaks started a month ago with the release of the Quinlan review into taxation, which would form the cornerstone of the ACT Government’s 2012-13 Budget, which would mean that the wealthier and more powerful citizens would be asked to make a greater contribution to the community than those less able. A fairer Budget but risky politics!
Treasurer Barr and Chief Minister Katy Gallagher have taken a series of risks going into the October election with a Budget that does not attempt to bribe the community, but rather squarely carves out Labor territory based on a “fairer, more equitable society”.
The first strike by the Labor Government is the attack on the current tax system that, for too long, according to Barr, has been “inequitable, volatile and inefficient”.
The second October election strike achieved in this Budget by Labor is to effectively distance itself from their Federal Labor counterparts, who are married to the concept of achieving a surplus at almost any cost. Barr reiterated a number of times that it is simply “fiscal Darwinism” to deliver a Budget “just to deliver a surplus”.
The Federal Treasurer is trying to prove strong economic management in the face of threats by the Opposition slash and burn. In the meantime, the ACT Government is prepared to run a temporary deficit of some $400 million to retain employment and to maintain growth in uncertain times.
However, the ACT Liberals are not about to allow Labor to use the Budget to establish the ground rules for the next election.
Leader of the Opposition Zed Seselja identified the Budget as “a triple whammy” for the people of the ACT – “higher taxes, lower services, massive deficits”.
The Liberals have fallen back on their traditional approach constantly reiterating a catch cry of how much “families are hurting”. According to Seselja, the Labor Government represents “wasted money, wasted opportunities”.
No-one likes paying more taxes and the traditional view of politics is that the Liberals’ approach will certainly appeal to many.
The reason Labor has secured such strong support in the ACT in Federal and local elections over such a sustained period is that a high proportion of Canberra voters, despite their own wealth, actually do believe in a fairer community. Barr has produced a Budget that taps into this sentiment and uses it as springboard for the next election.
At a time when an opposition would be hoping to paint the government as tired and running out of ideas, ACT Labor has thrust its own philosophy to the forefront of its approach and has fired the first really successful salvo for the October election.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.