A moderate budget from the new moderate Labor

Even without delving into the details, you can get a reasonable feel for what sort of federal budget Labor has just delivered by considering the published reaction to it. The Federal Opposition has predictably “slammed” the budget, describing it as a “typical Labor high-taxing, high-spending budget, which targets people that it doesn’t like”. I wasn’t aware that budgets could “like” or “dislike” people, but I guess that’s just Doctor Nelson not letting his use of grammar get in the way of his spittle-flying (and self-serving) rage. This budget is not adventurous enough to give Nelson the fillip he needs. Bob Brown has declared that the Federal Government has failed the country on climate change with its budget, without really highlighting why this is so. He does inform us, however, that this budget confirms that Kevin Rudd is no “Robin Hood” and that rather he is actually a “Little John”. What this means precisely is not particularly clear. Perhaps Brown has determined that Rudd is a kindly, overweight bear.

Other commentators are divided, although on balance opinion seems to be positive. Scott Murdoch has described the budget as “laden with common sense”. Business groups are positive about the message of fiscal responsibility that the budget has sent, with the opinion of prominent economists seeming to tend towards begrudging approval. Notorious but generally reliable economics grump Ross Gittins is a bit more negative, rating the budget as merely “ok” and highlighting some areas where he feels the government should have done better. Peter Hartcher in the SMH is quite uncharacteristically critical, questioning whether the budget will really serve to fight inflation, and making this fairly strong accusation about Kevin Rudd’s leadership and his priorities:

Kevin Rudd seems to think the election campaign is still under way. He seems to have trouble realising that the campaign is over. He is now supposed to be governing.

Tonight’s budget set out to please many and to upset few.

Hartcher is being just a little unfair on that last point. I am sure that every former Federal Treasurer in living memory has sought to please many and upset few with their respective budgets; let’s not delude ourselves that this is not the nature of the game. If, in the current troubled economic climate, the government has managed to tick most of the important boxes from a fiscal management perspective and keep most people happy, it has probably achieved something quite worthwhile.

Indeed, from what I can gather from Swan’s speech [PDF], this budget has delivered pretty much everything that has been foreshadowed and promised, with no big surprises or as the Treasurer describes then, rabbits. As much as the media may have become accustomed to budget night rabbits, the character of the new administration and the prevailing economic conditions have served to end the budget night rabbit season bonanza entrenched by the Howard Government over the last decade.

Budget night may be drabber as a result, but the country is better for it.