Stop saying ‘Budget’, Australia

So, it’s budget eve. Outstanding. Surely there is no developed country on Earth that has such a pathological obsession with the annual, fairly pointless ritual of the federal budget.

Once a year, the entire media-political complex collectively lose their shit and ignore all news in order to report on what is effectively a balance sheet. While Greg Jericho made a good point on the Drum this week, that budget night offers some insight into the attitudes and priorities of the budget, surely it’s also true that we achieve similar insight with each and every policy announcement a government makes.

It’s not even a one-night parade of inanity. For weeks leading to budget night, the government ‘strategically’ leaks snippets of their plans for the budget in order to build an impression of the impending announcements that is ‘worse’ than whatever the likely result will be, in an effort to shape the eventual coverage.

Tomorrow night, the charade continues, as the media will attend the annual ‘lockup’, given about five hours to read through a boring, impenetrable document written with the express intention of hiding the nasty things from immediate discovery. They will then consult various interest groups for comment, before submitting copy for the next day’s papers and news reports, listing the ‘winners and losers’ of the process.

Wayne Swan will spend time talking about how ‘tough’ his budget is, and how important is that fiscal responsibility is observed (what’s responsible about building a fictional surplus while ripping massive amounts of money from a fairly fragile economy is, by the way, beyond me).

Tony Abbott will simultaneously say that Swan has ‘cooked the books’ and that it is an irresponsible budget (both of which are at least arguably true), accompanying various other claims that are likely to be far, far less truthful.

The bribes, even in a year as austere as this, will still come thick and fast. The kicker has already been announced. The education tax rebate was scrapped (which is excellent news, it was a terrible policy that unthinkingly tossed a handout at anyone with a student child). It was replaced with an ACTUAL handout, an annual cash donation to all families, with no means testing. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars, much of which will find itself in the accounts of those who have absolutely no need of governmental largesse.

You will wake up Wednesday morning, the world will keep spinning, and nothing will be different. Except the media will have done a cracking job of justifying their existence through the inclusion of a wraparound or liftout in the big papers, and special features on the news bulletins.

And no one should really care.


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