Ten million children vaccinated. 2.5 million people with access to safe drinking water. And 30 million people supported through humanitarian crises like famine and war. These are some outcomes to be delivered this year, by Australia’s Budget for overseas aid.
This year, Australia’s aid budget will rise – by $300 million, to a record $5.2 billion. And it will go on rising - reaching $7.7 billion in three year’s time.
In dollar terms our aid budget is the largest in our history. As a percentage of Gross National Income, it’s at 0.35%, rising to 0.5% by 2016/17. That’s just one year later than planned – a pretty good outcome in a tough budget year.
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The worship of ‘working families’ is a bipartisan affair – all sides of politics fall over themselves to appeal to this valuable voting pool. It’s enough to make the childless feel like drones, labouring to feed the reproducing queens.
First there was Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s cash splash for parents of schoolkids. Then, in his Budget reply speech, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said: “My values are the product of an Australian life, a real life much like yours with Margie, raising three daughters in suburban Sydney, paying a mortgage, worrying about bills.”
Sorry, Mr Abbott, but that’s not a real life much like mine. Never mind living in suburban Sydney or having three daughters, even if I fell in love with a Margie I couldn’t marry her.
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When Wayne Swan is at his desk he likes to work to music. He told journalists during the week that his Budget song this year had been Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams”.
Perhaps it was two lines in the opening verse that struck a chord with the Treasurer:
You don’t know where you’re goin’
But you know you won’t be back
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Wayne Swan’s 2012-13 blueprint was well crafted and immediately drew errors from the Opposition.
Tony Abbott’s one-speed approach to political combat apparently blinded him to the knuckle-headedness of standing between voters and a wedge of cash.
By invoking the arbitrary principle that cash hand-outs are bad policy, Mr Abbott again showed how bluntly oppositional he is prepared to be. But it was dumb politics.
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Instead of fixing a struggling education system, Gillard and Swan have ignored Australian schools and decided to hand out cash to parents, proving that votes are more important than a school system that is out-dated and falling behind in relation to world standards.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan have announced that one million Australian families will receive a cash bonus for each school-aged child that they have.
This bonus is set to replace the existing education tax refund. Families will receive $820 for child that they have attending secondary school and $410 for each child in primary school. The government will also issue back payments for the past financial year in a one-off bonus.
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Big winners from last night’s budget include Australians aged 50 and over at risk of bowel cancer – who until now have been among the nation’s most marginalised.
The $50 million in new bowel cancer screening funds announced by Wayne Swan and health minister Tanya Plibersek on Saturday may end years of discrimination against a cancer that has been at the bottom of the pile when it comes to understanding and reducing the nation’s overall cancer burden.
The pun was intended. I usually refrain from double entendres when discussing bowel cancer, because it is no laughing matter. We should not make light of a human tragedy – and one that’s all the more tragic because of its preventability.
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Trapped in a political death roll, Treasurer Wayne Swan prepared a Budget speech that would see him go down in history as the most desperately honest politician the world has ever seen. Then, in the wee small hours, a spin doctor talked him down from the ledge. Here’s how it went down.
Wayne Swan (hand on heart): Madam Deputy Speaker, this Government will be a Robin Hood taking from fat cats like Clive Palmer and giving to working families. We have an ever so slightly personal dislike for these magnates messing around in politics, and think we look pretty tough giving them these little smackdowns.
Labor also feels that the next Government will reap all the benefits of the mining boom so we must redistribute that money before we lose power, and be remembered for slipping the dosh straight into the pockets of Australians whom we will refer to repeatedly as working families.
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Very, according to Julia Gillard. The PM has been at pains this morning to convince everyone the $1.5 billion buffer will not be blown out of the water at the first sign of trouble.
It’s a hard sell. This time last year Wayne Swan predicted the 2011-12 deficit would be $22.6 billion. In November’s MYEFO it was revised to $37.1 billion, and last night it was confirmed to be $44 billion.
According to Swan, the GFC wiped $150 billion off Australia’s tax take in the five years to 2012-13. A short time ago on Sky News Gillard pointed to this drop in revenue as proof of how hard she and Swan would fight to maintain the promised surplus.
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How long would the Government have lingered over this question: Do we try and probably fail to give companies $4.7 billion or do we back the sure thing of offering the cash to grateful families?
In a Budget devoted to suburban street politics more than high road economic management, the answer would be: Not much.
Given that a large chunk of that money, around $1.5 billion in 2012-13 and 2013-14, would be handed out as voters approached an election, it’s no surprise that the families won.
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If tonight’s Budget was all about the “Schoolkids”, they’d better enjoy their time in the playground while it lasts. Once they start working, there’ll be no gold watch at 65.
Faced with an ageing population, which will eventually struggle to support its top-heavy retirement class, this Budget set about encouraging even the quite elderly to stay in the workforce for as long as possible.
Up to now the greying of Australia has been presented as a looming crisis.
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Australian wage earners fear an economic winter during the northern hemisphere summer and are saving to protect themselves from what they believe could be another big global crunch.
Yesterday the financial markets were jolted by the elevation of anti-austerity parties in France and Greece in weekend elections and immediately took cover.
It was a rare moment of rational, ordinary Australians and occasionally irrational markets being in accord: You have got to defend yourself against countries not capable of looking after themselves.
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Labor’s recovery plan is simple and unexciting: delivering an unlikely Budget surplus.
Yet with a primary vote languishing in the mid-to-high 20 per cent range, this rather abstract financial goal is now the whole game - the political rock around which all else will be anchored.
The strategy assumes two inter-related things: first that Ms Gillard can hang on to the leadership and second, that an election is still 16 to 18 months away.
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If you are confused by debate over company tax cuts don’t feel alone. The chap miffed he won’t be guardian-in-chief of the $73 billion Future Fund also is unsure of his way on the issue.
“Well look Chris, I’m in favour of lower company taxes … ” former Treasurer Peter Costello told Chris Uhlman on the ABC’s 7.30 last week.
“But the price … if the price of cutting taxes is to impose a carbon tax - in other words to impose a huge, mammoth new tax of which you give back a very small amount - frankly I’d rather they do nothing.” Familiar sentiment; wrong “tax”.
At some point late in 2011, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan decided to firm-up their language on delivering the small surplus as outlined in that year’s Budget papers.
A projected $3.5 billion positive return for 2012-13 was to be revised down before Christmas in Treasury’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, MYEFO. The new 2012-13 target would be a vaporous $1.5 billion - tiny in a budget of $350 billion or so, and well less than the annual margin of variation between forecast and outcome.
But its actual value was more psychological because, as thin as it was, it remained on the right side of the ledger. Just. For Labor, looking ahead to the 2013 election year, it was non-negotiable - a case of this way or the slipway.
If most of us ran our household budgets like governments run health budgets, we’d be on the streets.
The lack of apparent logic in health funding will be highlighted today by a joint statement from independent MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie, calling on the federal government to expand its National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in the 2012-13 budget.
For the three Independents to make this united plea says two things: they are concerned for the health of the nation and for people in their electorates; and the argument for an urgent expansion of the NBCSP is compelling.
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