Now for Kevin and Wayne’s excellent budget adventure
Spare a thought for Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner as they ferret away on Labor’s pre-election budget. At a time when they should be doling out the goodies, the public is telling them it’s time to stop spending our money.
The last few years have been a good time to be in control of the Treasury coffers – after all a successful economic rescue plan based on giving people money while interest rates remained low was sure to meet with public acclaim.
But now the party is coming to an end and the pressure is on to rein spending without causing an uproar in core Labor constituencies. As this week’s Essential Report
shows, the answer may lie in giving closer scrutiny to the Defence budget.
Q: If cost savings need to be made in the budget, in what areas should spending cuts be made?
What is clear from this research is that for most of us, cutting spending on health and education is out of the question. Likewise there is little enthusiasm for cutting much-needed infrastructure and community services. There are also a significant number of people who either don’t know where to cut the dough or who reject the idea of cutting any specific programs at all.
Which leaves two remaining pots of money – welfare and social security and defence and national security.
The economic orthodoxy for many years has been that Defence is off limits for Conservative governments, who have instead taken the axe to welfare programs, making them politically palatable through the regular targeting of dole-bludgers, single mums and job snobs.
But the political fault lines break the other way for Labor, with more than double the number of Labor voters wanting the government to review defence and national security spending. Amongst Greens, the ratio is even higher – one to four.
Part of this mood to cut Defence could be attributed to recent revelations of over-spending by defence contractors.
There is also a section of the Left that has always and will always treat the armed forces with a short-sighted disdain.
But looking at some separate polling this week, I think there is something more profound at play. When we asked which countries Australians would like to see a stronger relationship with, we got some interesting results.
Q. Would you like to see Australia’s relationship with these countries get closer, stay the same or become less close?
Leaving New Zealand aside as a strange anomaly, the nations we crave closer ties with are not the US and the UK, our traditional kindred spirits; but China and Indonesia,.
While Australians accept the need to maintain a defence force, it appears they are much more interested in developing close and harmonious relationships with those who would be our enemies.
Rather than shock and awe, they are warming to the idea of engagement and understanding, especially with our region.
Call it the upside of globalisation or a simple pragmatism, either way the majority see our security safeguarded by something other than the military.
And that just might offer a way through for Labor as it prepares a horror budget that doesn¹t scare the horses.
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