Why Tony Abbott's first budget will be built on lies
It's difficult to find words to adequately describe the spectacle of the Abbott Government setting about hiking income taxes and fuel excise in its first budget, writes Senator Penny Wong.
"Beyond belief," as one of the Prime Minister's colleagues quipped, comes close.
From the man who promised no new taxes, and argued that "no country has ever taxed its way to prosperity," here come the new taxes.
But this reveals more than a Prime Ministerial hypocrisy.
It also makes clear the lie that is the "Budget Emergency."
If the Budget were replete with wasteful Labor spending that could be cut, as Tony Abbott kept telling Australians before the election, there would be no need for tax hikes.
The Coalition appeared to believe their political lines actually constituted fiscal policy.
But they didn't and they won't.
Mr Abbott's addiction to scare campaigns is well known. From claiming whole cities would be wiped off the map to the Budget Emergency, facts are sacrificed in pursuit of a political objective.
But not one of the Prime Minister's claims about the Budget stacks up against a simple fact check.
Claim: Australia has a Budget emergency
Nations with Budget emergencies don't receive AAA ratings with a stable outlook from all three credit rating agencies as Australia did under Labor.
Australia is one of only 10 economies in the world with AAA ratings from all three agencies - in the company of other countries with strong public finances like Germany, Canada, Sweden, Singapore and Switzerland.
This "triple AAA" status shows our finances are considered to be stronger than those of the vast majority of advanced economies, including the US, the UK, Japan, France and New Zealand.
Claim: Debt levels are unsustainable
The Australian Government has low levels of debt by world standards.
The latest Budget update shows net government debt for 2013-14 of $191.5 billion, or 12.1 per cent of Australia's GDP.
By contrast, net government debt in advanced economies around the world averages 74.7 per cent according to the International Monetary Fund.
Claim: Labor's deficits were too high
Governments typically run Budget surpluses when the economy is strong and deficits when the economy is weak.
Labor allowed the Budget to go into deficit in 2008-09 because the global financial crisis was threatening to plunge our economy into recession.
Our action stimulated the economy, kept Australia out of recession and supported hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The deficit peaked at $54.5 billion, or 4.2 per cent of GDP, in 2009-10 - less than half the advanced country average.
Then, as the private sector started recovering, Labor started reducing the deficit.
In our last full year in office, 2012-13, the federal deficit was $18.8 billion or 1.2 per cent of GDP, compared to an advanced economy average of 4.9 per cent.
Claim: Spending was out of control
In the four years from 2009-10 to 2012-13 Labor met its fiscal rule of keeping real average spending growth to less than 2 per cent a year. In fact, this was the lowest four-year period of real spending growth in 23 years.
The Abbott Government arrives at a higher figure for political purposes by including the 2008-09 stimulus - an economic program the Nobel laureate, economist Joseph Stiglitz, has described as one of the "best designed" stimulus packages of any advanced economy.
Claim: Labor increased taxes
Labor was a low-taxing government.
During our time in office, Federal Government receipts averaged 22.5 per cent of GDP.
By contrast, under the Howard Government, receipts averaged 25 per cent of GDP.
Claim: Debt will reach $667 billion by the end of the decade
The Budget's debt and deficit figures have been inflated by Joe Hockey through a combination of spending decisions and changes to economic assumptions, such as unemployment projections.
These changes doubled projected Budget deficits by $68 billion and have also blown out debt figures.
These political changes in Budget assumptions were confirmed by Treasury at Senate estimates hearings earlier this year.
By contrast, the independent Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook's medium term projections, using long-standing methodology, show that on Labor's policy settings the Budget surplus grows to 1 per cent of GDP in 2020-21 and net debt returns to zero in 2023-24.
Claim: Labor's school and disability reforms are not funded
In the 2013-14 Budget Labor took the unprecedented step of releasing 10 year figures for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Gonski school reforms, demonstrating how they were funded over the long term.
The Coalition has reversed a number of these savings measures and now claims these reforms represent a fiscal "time bomb" - this is a patent attempt to justify breaking Mr Abbott's election promises on schools and disability.
It is the case that structural improvements in the Budget are needed to ensure key spending is sustainable.
That's why Labor made targeted savings worth more than $180 billion over the six Budgets since 2008-09.
Savings like means testing the Private Health Insurance rebate, removing the baby bonus and reforming the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, rather than hiking income tax and cutting benefits to low and middle income families.
Treasury analysis shows that the long-term savings made by Labor mean the Budget is cumulatively more than $300 billion better off by 2020-21.
Political deceit may have provided Mr Abbott with an expedient path to office.
But it represents a shaky foundation for responsible economic and budget management.