The mood – the essence – of the moment doesn’t match this budget, despite its handing out dollars (dollars!) for all of us.
That was fine in the past, when the critical issue was working out if we’d have enough money to survive until payday. But now society’s fracturing. Full-time jobs are disappearing while others grow wealthier. Instead of lubricating the whole economy, cash is sticking to those benefiting most from the change; the top ten percent.
It’s a time demanding reassurance. Instead the PM offers envy; urging us to use this as motivation to earn more.
Morrison’s problem’s twofold. Firstly, money isn’t floating through and too many people are still doing it hard. But the second problem’s far more significant. It’s going to lose him the election. The Budget doesn’t deal with the two critical issues of the future, climate and technological change. These are the big, existential problems, not the rise of China or ISIS in the Middle East.
Allocating all that money to build frigates, submarines or armoured vehicles is fine but irrelevant to combat the critical dangers we face today. What we’re being offered is more of the same. It’s not good enough.
Back in 2007 Kevin Rudd blindsided John Howard twice. First, he spooked the PM by vowing to end carefully targeted electoral bribes, proclaiming, “this reckless spending has got to stop”. His other key message was that climate change was “the great moral issue of our time”. Rudd broke both promises, of course, but he established a winning election dynamic.
Bill Shorten can recognise a winning strategy when he sees it – which is why we’re in for a re-run of that campaign.
Previously, infrastructure spending offered that winning formula. It brought all of us together and signalled there are some challenges we can only face as a nation. Today it doesn’t. We need clear reassurance the government can deal with these new challenges, not the old ones.
In turn, first climate.
Splashing $285 million in one-off payouts to cover increasing electricity bills won’t deal with the underlying issue of generating electricity while restraining emissions. Both sides of politics have kept putting this off, year after year, as they sought to keep their various voting constituencies happy. Now, twelve years after Rudd’s original election (and with three of the hottest years ever recorded occurring during this intervening period), the softly-softly approach won’t work any more.
More than 97 per cent of those researching climate are in complete agreement that our economic decisions are causing global warming. Erratic weather conditions linked to this phenomena have, over the past year, played havoc with farm production and intensified natural disasters. Yet still the PM isn’t prepared to tackle this issue head on.
Spending more than $35 billion on defence is all very well, but it won’t protect us from an armada of climate refugees coming from, say, Bangladesh, a low-lying country critically exposed to sea-level rise.
We can only grapple with this problem through unified and concerted national effort. It is a future security threat that’s at least as urgent as any military one. This isn’t to suggest the Greens policy, slashing defence spending, is correct.
Last week that party unveiled a policy designed to appeal to its voting base rather than deal with the real world. The point remains, however, that the government appears equally ill-equipped to deal with this emerging and critical security challenge.
The Budget’s also failed to address our other current economic and security challenge: the rapidly transforming digital economy. Just look at the way the government’s failed to come up with a plan to deal with 5G phones.
The US views Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei with fear and apprehension, not simply because of uncertainty about the security of its systems but because, for the first time ever, it’s being undercut on both price and capability.
Huawei’s product is better and cheaper so of course people want to buy it. Last week the company released worldwide revenue figures: US $ 105 billion, on par with Microsoft or Google It’s now poised on the verge of grabbing half the world market.
If – or perhaps when – Huawei dominates 5G it will be in the driving seat to set new standards for the 6G network. And guess what? Huawei will begin installing incremental updates to prevent any competitor emerging. Its European rivals, Ericsson and Nokia, will be left behind.
That’s the way the free market works, but what’s our government offering in this budget to engage with future technology? There’s no money put towards a national research effort and no suggestion that we should be competing in this space or developing our own systems. It almost looks as if the government just wants the issue to go away.
Josh Frydenberg like a passenger in a train, passing commentary on what’s floating past the window as the locomotive powers past. The government’s pretending it’s got the engine under control when the reality is we’re hurtling down an unknown track with no agenda for the future.
The irony of all this is that the government was hoping to springboard off the budget straight into the election campaign. This budget is a great plan to deal with the issues of the past. It’s a pity it doesn’t address the present and future.