Hockey whacks almost everyone
Hockey whacks 'almost everyone'

Joe Hockey's first Budget shows an ambition to get the nation's finances back in the black within four years and it will be families, pensioners, patients and students who do much of the heavy lifting.

Then again, almost everyone gets whacked.

Although the Treasurer is telling us that 2017-18 will be $2.8 billion in the red, you can bet your bottom dollar that this is the year he intends to record his first surplus.

Mr Hockey's just giving himself a bit of wriggle room, to avoid the trap that ensnared Wayne Swan.

This will be a full 10 years after the last surplus.

But to get there, there will be a big clampdown on family payments through an effective redefinition of who is deserving of government help and who is not.

Here, there are similarities to Mr Swan's first Budget in 2008.

Then, Labor sought to make $150,000 household income as the upper limit for government welfare.

The coalition, which howled in protest at Labor's "class warfare", has brought it down to $100,000.

Tony Abbott new "battler line" will see more than 140,000 families kicked off Government welfare.

States will be expected to do a lot more in schools and hospitals - and with a declining revenue base to boot.

Expect this Budget to supercharge the debate about broadening the base and lifting the rate of the GST.

Greater reliance on the user pays principle will see university fees, pharmaceuticals and health services become more costly.

The $7 Medicare co-payment for bulk-billed medical services will not only challenge the universality of Medicare but create tensions with States in their emergency departments.

And then there are the broken promises which litter the budget.

The deficit levy and indexation of the fuel excise are clear breaches of Tony Abbott's promise not to increase taxes.

And it's arguable that the retreat on family benefits, the freeing up of university fees and the looming changes to health and education at least breach the spirit of Mr Abbott's pre-election statements.

Perhaps Mr Abbott should be less worried about the fiscal deficit than the trust deficit.

Certainly, if Labor had delivered this Budget having made the same promises that Mr Abbott made before the election, they would have been murdered by a Tony Abbott-led Opposition.

Bill Shorten is yet to show he can be anywhere near as lethal as Mr Abbott proved to be but the Budget provides a shopping list of political attack lines for Labor.

The Government's gamble is that voters will mark up the Government for having the gumption to make tough decisions, more than they mark down the Government for breaking its word.

The West Australian

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