2013 Federal Budget breakdown
Wayne Swan's sixth budget forecasts a shift from the resource investment boom and into a fresh boom in production and exports, a shift Mr Swan says will shuffle the economy toward wider sources of economic growth.PT4M25S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2jlrm 620 349 May 15, 2013
Trap. Wedge. Trick. Ploy. All these words have been used to describe Wayne Swan's latest federal budget.
To many observers, it was all too obvious: an outgoing Labor government was laying booby traps for an incoming Coalition outfit. But if there is a trap for Tony Abbott, it is no sleeper.
Illustration: John Spooner.
Budget 2013 is a reversal of the normal order of things: the backdrop of the event has commanded almost more attention than the action on stage.
That backdrop is a government apparently limping towards the exit, humiliated by its failure to deliver a surplus that it had itself stipulated as the only true test of its prowess, and an opposition setting itself for victory, unified to a fault, and doggedly wedded to populist contradictory political fixes, such as its ''direct action'' climate change plan, and the unsustainable forward march of middle-class welfare.
Even before Swan had finished speaking in the House of Representatives on budget night, outlining a raft of tough savings measures worth $43 billion over five years, attention had turned to what Tony Abbott would do.
There's been a lot of that kind of questioning lately, which tells you all you need to know about the expectation of a change of government now more-or-less built in to most people's thinking.
In these strange times, policy and politics have become further entangled than is normally the case.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that Julia Gillard and her Treasurer had unsuccessfully applied a pincer movement on Abbott over a proposed extension of the Medicare levy to pay for DisabilityCare.
Now, in their ''last roll of the dice'' budget, they were at it again - trying to turn their two key weaknesses, the minority Parliament and a big deficit, into strengths, by using Abbott's momentum against him.
In place of what had been promised as a surplus for 2012-13, the balance sheet remained deep in the red. But across its ''out years'', the subsequent three-year forward estimates, it proposed a rapid fiscal consolidation, a steep ascent back to surplus.
This is to be achieved through a combination of better economic performance and politically unpalatable spending cuts - savings that Abbott would either have to back, thus vindicating the controversial savings measures and forfeiting a short-term political advantage, or block. The latter option offers Abbott the sugar-hit reward of a short-term electoral dividend - more government chaos, claims of broken promises, etc - but brings with it the expense of a worsening fiscal imbalance which he and Joe Hockey will in all likelihood be lumbered with after September.
This is the calculation Abbott and his advisers are weighing up right now, ahead of tonight's budget reply speech. Whether to wave the cuts through, allowing Labor to take bragging rights - and do the heavy lifting of repairing the budget - or to continue to play hard ball.
In deciding which way to jump, Abbott knows there is another danger, too.
He had, of course, confounded the government (and some in his own camp) when he backed the NDIS levy. On that occasion, he felt he had little choice because to equivocate on the prospect of a guaranteed funding stream for a scheme he had strongly backed meant he would be seen as disingenuous.
Nonetheless, the emergence of Dr Yes briefly wrong-footed the government.
All was not lost, though. By definition, the 0.5-percentage-point increase to the Medicare levy would not pay for the whole scheme, a fact Abbott repeatedly pointed out. With just half the funding, you get only half the scheme, he goaded.
That opened the opportunity for a second wedge in the form of painful cuts to existing spending to guarantee the remainder of NDIS funding. Enter the decisions to slash the $5000 Howard-era baby bonus, and to wind back further creeping family payments, among others.
Many in Labor believe that for Abbott, cutting the baby bonus and family payments will prove to be a bridge too far. Indeed, they're banking on it.
They're likely to be wrong.
This close to an election he is poised to win, the Opposition Leader is hyper-alert, alive to every risk - his recent IR non-policy being a case in point.
Abbott believes the government is again manouevring for a more damaging claim than merely suggesting he is ''all talk'' on balancing the budget.
That being the charge that he is not a ''fair dinkum'' backer of the new disability program.
In other words, if Abbott blocks the budget measures to close off the baby-bonus and trim family tax benefits, he will be putting the very financial viability of the $14.5 billion DisabilityCare in jeopardy.
The trap is set, but a wily Abbott is unlikely to get caught - which would be a win for the budget, for DisabilityCare, and for common sense.
Mark Kenny is chief political correspondent.