Forget the farcical surplus, it's debt we have to worry about
IF YOU loaded your credit card up to the max and kept spending, your mates would regard you as a dill. They'd be right. You would have to go back to the bank and keep upping the credit limit.
Imagine how stupid you would look if you told the bank manager that you were a financial whiz because you were planning - yes, just planning - next year, to spend just a few dollars less than you earned. Would you expect the bank to lend you more?
Clearly Wayne Swan would, because that is in effect what he is doing with your money. What's more, he is telling the bank manager that there can be no debate about it - he needs the money.
Forget about the Treasurer's pea-and-thimble surplus. It is a farce and everyone, probably including him, knows it. With a bit of paper shuffling he is promising to spend a bit less than he receives next year. The real issue in Swan's budget is net government debt.
In 2009 Labor sought to lift the Commonwealth statutory borrowing limit from $75 billion to $200 billion - a 133 per cent increase. With the global financial crisis looming, the Australian economy needed a cash injection. Whether it needed quite as much is a moot point. That billions of it was wasted in lousy programs and lousy management is undeniable.
Little if any thanks went to the Howard government for paying off all the previous Labor government debt. Having no debt, in fact having cash in the bank, made us the envy of the world. Now all Swan can say is that our debt is better than that in many other countries. Being better off than countries whose economies are in a mess is not much to be proud of.
Last year Swan decided that rather than put our house back in order it would be a good idea to borrow more again. He went for another $50 billion. Now, he wants us to borrow more again. Another $50 billion! That will take the Commonwealth borrowing limit to $300 billion. Swan wants to borrow four times what the Howard government was allowed to borrow.
Swan wants you or your kids to keep paying interest tomorrow so he can spend today. It is a hell of a lot of money to borrow - and in the end it has to be paid back. Kids born today could have their own kids in primary school before this debt is paid off. So much for Swan's legacy.
The interest bill is more than $7 billion a year. Let's put that in perspective. When Swan was asked just last month why last year's bottom line forecast was out by more than $20 billion, he replied: ''Six billion dollars for the reconstruction of Queensland was a pretty big hit.''
So there you have it. Every year we throw down the drain in interest ''an unexpected disaster'', more than the cost of rebuilding Brisbane after the floods.
You might think federal Parliament would have a debate on this, but some tricky manoeuvring means that your elected representative won't get that chance. The voice of the people will not be heard in the Parliament on this issue but it will be heard loud and clear through the ballot box some time in or before August next year.
More and more I see this Parliament as akin to the last Italian Parliament before a technical government was installed. There was scandal after scandal and the Italian people had pretty much tuned out of listening to their politicians.
None of this is good news for Tony Abbott. Labor's economic incompetence may well contribute to a tidal wave that sweeps Abbott into office. But the mess will be there for an incoming government to clean up.
Abbott is quite right to keep his policy powder dry. Without knowing where the next budget will end up, how can he possibly be expected to offer detail? If you don't tell the architect how much there is to spend, how can you expect detail in your drawings?
The first few years will be the hardest for the Abbott government. Horrific. New MPs and new ministers, euphoric with victory, will have things they would like to do. But there will be little cash to play with.
The Coalition is committed to removing some taxes (less money in) and to some spending initiatives (more money out). By the time a new government takes office, net government debt will be close to $300 billion, about four times the debt the Howard government paid off.
The difficulties faced by the incoming Howard government were a picnic compared to the mess Swan will leave behind. The new government's first job will be to cut waste. That's never easy.
In John Howard, treasurer Peter Costello had as his prime minister a former treasurer, someone who had lived and breathed the demands and difficulties of that portfolio. The incoming Liberal treasurer in an Abbott government will not have that luxury.
Abbott, because he doesn't have the Treasury background that Howard brought to the table, will no doubt realise he will need his best salesmen and women out in the field and his hardest heads protecting him in Treasury and Finance.
Joe Hockey's recent speech in London warned that the age of entitlement was over. It should remind everyone in the Coalition that the people who fill those two positions have to be tough, savvy and act ruthlessly in the national interest. The other ministers will have to get out and sell the story of an Abbott government.
Amanda Vanstone was a minister in the Howard government.