A serious budget for serious times

Yesterday I was privileged to again attend the Budget Lock-up, but what exactly is a budget lock-up? Simply put, all of the country’s media gather in Parliament House in Canberra and, at 1.30 sharp, are locked up in a series of rooms to wade through through the details of the budget papers and come up with their take on the contents. Oh, and you can’t leave until 7.30pm when Wayne Swan begins his budget speech. And did I mention there was no coffee available throughout all of this?

Yet, despite the long day, stuffy rooms and no coffee, I do still consider it a privilege to have been included. It offers a unique insight into how our political system works. Being in the heart of Parliament House on one of the most important days on the political calendar is exciting. Ministers come and go, as do media personalities and no one bats an eyelid, the star of the day is the Federal Budget. Even if most of the content has been announced in the preceeding weeks.

At four o’clock the Treasurer himself addresses the media horde, all desperate to grab a snippet, a gem of a comment which can be replayed throughout the evening news programs and headlined in the morning papers. For me, this is where Wayne Swan comes in to his own. Delivering what is perceived as being a negative budget, an unrealistic budget or a budget which is simply a grab for the working class family vote, can’t be easy when the media are baying for your political blood. But deliver it he did. Answering questions thrown at him with ease and showing just why he is the right man for the job. And this is the source my headline of the day, Wayne Swan proclaims that it’s  “A serious budget for serious times”.

When it comes to the budget itself, there were few surprises. High earners were hit, foreign workers lose some tax benefits and small business gets some relief but not the 1 per cent cut in company tax. Age pensioners get no extra money, unless you count the Clean Energy Household Assistance payments, meanwhile families and low-income earners get tax cuts and additional payments galore.

In the weeks leading up to the budget,  I had been quite scathing of Wayne Swan’s obstinance to deliver a budget surplus. Why couldn’t he understand that people, especially pensioners, are struggling to make ends meet? But after yesterday I’m a little more balanced. I’m not saying I think he’s a hundred per cent correct but I certainly have a better understanding of why he’s pushed the ‘back to surplus’ message.

This is Wayne Swan’s fifth budget and maybe it’s just that he’s getting better with practice, or perhaps it’s simply that he knows what he’s doing.

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