Embarrassing figure the Treasurer didn’t mention
When Treasurer Josh Frydenberg finished reading out his Budget speech, there was one embarrassing figure he'd still not mentioned.
It's this: fewer than 300 Australians are still sick with the virus that he blamed for causing the worst budget deficit - by far - in our history. But ignore that!
"COVID-19 will see our deficit reach $213.7 billion this year," declared Frydenberg, adding that there'd be another $270 billion added to our debt in the three years after.
Er, but it wasn't the virus that really did this, was it?
No, we did this to ourselves, by freaking and spending hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars to keep us "safe" and in the comfort to which we'd become accustomed.
Oh, yes, the Budget is clear on that point. It notes that the massive $206 billion loss in our fiscal balance was caused by just a $21 billion fall in revenue since the last pre-virus financial year, but a staggering $185 billion rise in expenses, much of it to keep Australians in jobs where there's actually no work.
Dear God, if only we'd spent a few of those billions early on efficiently tracking and quarantining the infectious the way Taiwan does, and a few billion on protecting the aged-care homes that became our killing fields.
Instead, we chose crude and brutal bans - nowhere more than in Victoria, still in one of the world's worst lockdowns - and the results were spelled out in Frydenberg's grim Budget.
I don't just mean the debt that will leave us weakened and exposed for years to come to the next big economic shock.
That debt! Twelve years ago we had none. Now each of us - man, woman, child - owes $23,500 in federal debt and rising, already double the debt of two years ago.
But who cares about debt any more? The watch-cry now is "jobs".
Frydenberg tips unemployment two years from now to still be 6.5 per cent, and says the government will wait until it's "comfortably below 6 per cent" before it starts to "rebuild our fiscal buffers, so that we can prepare for the next financial shock".
Please God that the next shock kindly stays away until that distant day that we finally do decide to start repaying a net debt that's estimated to reach almost $1 trillion in 2024.
Indeed, the Morrison government is betting madly that it does. It's betting, for instance, that an effective vaccine will save us early next year from any third wave, to judge from the number of COVID-19 welfare schemes that stop by next July.
It's also betting that the increasingly belligerent Chinese dictatorship will settle down soon, given that this Budget brings forward just $1 billion in planned defence spending, and just to "support jobs" and extend "health and employment programs for our veterans".
Let's hope the world stops to wait for Australia to catch up.
In fact, in some ways it seems history has gone into reverse as the Morrison government, giddy with spending, decides we're actually all socialists now.
Look, I get it. We must support the businesses and jobs that our governments banned in their panic, and full marks to this government for that. We must also do what we can to get people back into work, earning and spending, which is why this Budget does well to bring forward tax cuts that give around $5000 to low and middle-income working couples. Also good: its instant tax write-off - 100 per cent - for assets bought for a business.
Such tax measures at least return money to those who earned it, and reward risk takers.
But make no mistake: this Budget will remake Australia.
A government does not spend so much money on so many for so long, and then turn off the tap without a generation having grown used to - and demanding - more warm water.
But beyond that, look how this government slides so easily into the socialist game of planning an economy, picking supposed winners, and rewarding modern symbols of progressive virtue.
When we're in this strife, it's surely urgent to cut costs, slash red tape, and unleash the potential of anyone willing to invest and work, regardless of age, gender or race.
But here we go: another lazy billion to bribe bosses into hiring the young above the old, hundreds of millions to help female workers rather than male, $1.3 billion for a "Modern Manufacturing plan" that privileges six pet industries, including "clean energy" and "space".
Worst of all, there's another $2 billion for expensive green energy to "address climate change", that other exaggerated scare, when we need electricity that's cheaper and more reliable. Like, you know, coal.
On it goes. So much money taken from some people to give to others deemed more worthy - taken most of all from our children and grandchildren, who will work for decades to repay what we in our panic have borrowed.
Meanwhile, are the borders down yet? The tourism industry freed? Has Melbourne yet been allowed to get back to work?
No? Well, drown your troubles instead in this fountain of cash. And don't ask what tomorrow may bring.
ANDREW BOLT IS A HERALD SUN COLUMNIST
Originally published as Embarrassing figure the Treasurer didn't mention