Answering Your Federal Budget Questions After a Few Glasses of Wine
I Don't Hold An Elecion, Mate by Kara Schlegl
Writer Kara Schlegl brings a uniquely clear-sighted, smart and often funny view to any topic. It’s our luck and fortune that Kara has agreed to write a column for A Rational Fear’s Substack every fortnight on a Tuesday until the election: I Don’t Hold An Election Mate.
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It’s important you know that I do not condone heavy drinking, except on Budget night after the year we’ve all just had. This is the Morrison Government’s opportunity to hard pitch to us for their re-election, and unfortunately they did a great job at lying to us about how well they’ve done and making promises they can’t - or won’t - keep.
So yes, I confess that I’ve already had quite a few generous glasses of wine. But it’s fine. I’ll be able to afford plenty of panadol to cure my budget hangover after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg splashes cash on me like I’m standing on a Lismore sidewalk and he’s driving our tax payer dollars through precarious flood waters.
It’s also good to note here that budgets are deeply boring and I usually avoid them at all cost. But considering wage growth is stagnant, and the cost of living is about to drown us all, I desperately need this job. So here I am, wine in hand, ready to answer the big questions and maybe have a little nap afterwards.
Will fuel prices really go down?
On Tuesday night Frydenberg stood in parliament wearing a rumpled grey suit, with his bright blue tie askew, looking like a candidate for high school captain about to promise a free Nintendo Switch to any dickhead gullible enough to vote for him.
This read wasn’t far off, as he opened in the first five minutes with his biggest budget promise: to save us from the big bad bowsers with a 22c cut to fuel excise over the next 6 months. As a queer woman who’s stuck in the outer suburbs of Sydney and drives a Subaru Outback, this is a big deal for me. Unfortunately, just as teenagers can’t promise free shit to their mates on the public education dime, the Coalition can’t guarantee this excise cut will actually save us any cash, especially if big fossil fuels are in charge.
As NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury points out, the excise exists to cover the cost of roads, and was not designed to help mitigate rising fuel costs. Although Frydenberg has promised to keep an eye on his mates at Big Oil, Khoury has warned that oil companies could easily take advantage of this minor discount and swallow the savings for profit like a tar pit swallows a Woolly Mammoth (but here, the Woolly Mammoth has snatched your wallet with its trunk does this analogy make any sense?).
And that’s if there are any savings at all. According to Richie Merzian from the Australian Institute, “at the current rate of the global oil price rise, the short-term fuel discount sugar hit will be wiped out by mid-year.” It’s important here to remember that “mid-year” is only a couple months away.
Am I rich now?
Sure, Frydenberg offered to make it rain (figuratively speaking, thank god) on low and middle income earners. This is my demographic, so I was totally prepared to don a pair of dollar sign swim trunks and dive into the tax payer’s coffers Scrooge McDuck style. But alas, if I did this I would immediately land head first into a big pile of bullshit.
It isn’t that Australians couldn’t put the proposed $420 tax cut to good use. Personally, I’ve got my eye on a single session with my psychiatrist. And it’s not that pensioners and concession card holders won’t need the $250 bonus after a decade of this government making cuts to pretty much every welfare system on offer, and with no help to aged care in sight. But - and this is very important - the budget is set to increase taxes for lower and middle income earners after this financial year.
This is because the Coalition has made the wild decision to end the ‘low and middle income tax offset’, meaning that us proletariate swine will have to get used to rolling in the muck again after losing the tax cuts we’ve become accustomed to over the pandemic (despite still being in the middle of it). But it’s totally worth it, because it means that the highest income earners will finally get the tax cuts they so deserve — a full $9075 per year, in fact.
Will I finally be able to afford a house?
Aw, that’s so sweet, but no.
There was a small promise to expand the Home Guarantee Scheme by 50,000 places, offering single parents and first home buyers a chance to purchase a house with only a 5% deposit, but that just means there will likely be a massive mortgage rate rise due to high inflation (lol).
Otherwise, there was no mention of affordable housing support, or even rental assistance. So, uh, good luck?
Did Frydenberg mention climate change, or was I hallucinating?
He DID mention climate change, and I’m pretty sure I saw his spirit leave his body the moment he uttered the words.
My expectations for the Morrison Government for this particular issue were low, but they’ve truly plumbed the depths here, giving pittance to solar and wind, while investing $37.6 billion into Fossil Fuel subsidies (which I think is approximately a dollar for every species these companies render extinct).
They’re giving $1 billion to the Great Barrier Reef, and $5.4 billion to Queensland’s aptly named ‘Hells Gate Dam’, which experts say threatens to further destroy the Great Barrier Reef.
And we can’t forget the $53 million they’ve promised to koala conservation, or the fact that the Morrison government is responsible for thousands of hectares of lost koala habitat.
That’s super depressing, I’m totally bummed out, can you tell me something they got right?
This budget has real girl boss energy. If you’re a wealthy woman with a small business, you’re thriving right now, and Frydenberg says you can absolutely get it.
The Morrison Government has offered small businesses $1.6 billion in tax deductions for technology and skills training, with Frydenberg claiming “no one knows better than a small business owner what skills they need in their employees”. Ah, to go back in time and introduce the treasurer to my former small business owner boss who thought I needed a bachelors’ degree to fetch her coffee and occasionally wash her car.
There’s another $2.1 billion promised to women, presumably in the hopes that this will shut us up. There’s a lot to be said about this spending, but the fine print is that it’s not nearly enough, and some decisions - like targeting only women for the paid parental leave scheme - could make things even harder for families in the long term.
Who’s the biggest winner here?
I’d say the biggest winner this budget is Frydenberg himself, who managed to come across as somewhat successful and competent despite all the shit him and his party has put us through.
But if we’re talking more generally, it’s the “big guy”. The Morrison Government wants us to believe this is a 'cost of living’ budget, where they’re helping the poors through a tough time. But most of our money is being poured into regional projects, defence spending, fossil fuels, transport infrastructure, and space… stuff.
I’m terrible at math, I’ve even lost count of the number of drinks I’ve had, so I’m not going to attempt to add up the total spending. But I think it’s important to recognise that this Government is offering more money to cyber espionage than to flood and disaster relief, in the MIDDLE OF A DISASTROUS FLOOD EVENT. Sorry for yelling. This would be fine if internet James Bond could rescue me from a new-formed river raging down my street, but I don’t think he’s left his mum’s basement in 35 years.
OK, so who’s the biggest loser?
The best way to describe this budget is “short sighted”. There are no substantial and sustained investments in education, healthcare, welfare, childcare, affordable housing, wage growth, or even clean energy. And if you work in the arts, like me, you’re totally fucked.
There are also losers who will get overlooked, like the cuts made to Aboriginal Legal Services and family violence prevention.
But take heart in the fact that with climate change pelting down on us and this Government doing fuck all about it, we’re all losers here.
Except for me, I’m a winner in that I managed to make it to the end of this without passing out. Love you guys lots and lots. Xoxo
(This piece has been edited since it was originally published for accuracy)