It’s a time-honoured tradition for governments of both political hues to talk about the looming Budget being tough.
The weeks leading up to this Budget were no different.
You’ll remember Prime Minister Julia Gillard eliciting a warning in The West Australian in March that young workers shirking work obligations should expect “tough love”.
Treasurer Wayne Swan has also sounded off repeatedly about the need to restrain spending with unpopular decisions to ensure the return to surplus.
So how tough were they?
It depends, of course, on how you define “tough”.
Given we’ve grown used to Government largesse, the absence of tax cuts in this Budget – the first time since the 2002-03 – might be considered one gauge of being “tough”.
But a better, more appropriate measure of toughness is who gets pinched and bruised by today’s Budget.
Teenage mums, those who have the ability to work but don’t, the long-term unemployed, singles and families on high incomes with private health insurance and those who enjoy a company car will all feel some pain from the Budget.
So will stay-at-home dependent spouses in their 20s and 30s who don’t have kids, and families on higher end incomes.
If you’re one of these people, you’ll probably think this is a tough Budget.
The fact is however that the Treasurer could have gone further, widening the grief to other cohorts.
He didn’t for a couple of reasons.
The first is that the minority Labor Government has slumped so low in public favour it can little afford making new enemies.
So mooted cuts to medical research were quickly ditched and greater incursions into middle class welfare dismissed.
The second reason is down to the tension between the main theme of today’s Budget - participation - and the political imperative to return the Budget to surplus within the next two years.
Expecting more out of the under-employed or unemployed requires either stick or carrot.
But sticks and carrots are both costly in the short term, either through the provision of more training or tighter monitoring by Centrelink.And money is not exactly in over-supply at the moment.
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