Malcolm Turnbull promised jobs and growth. Instead, the only thing that's growing is the number of unemployed people. And while budgets always have winners and losers, this year's will now come with "good debt" and "bad debt".
After years of telling Australians that deficits are morally wrong and that we'll end up like Greece if we don't get back into surplus, the Coalition's change in rhetoric is likely less based on a new affinity for "good debt" and more on Treasurer Scott Morrison's inability to rein in the deficit.
The government's proposed higher education cuts simply shift debt from the government to students, and will disproportionately affect graduates who earn less over their careers.
Let's look at two law graduates, David and Sally. David, who enters corporate law, will easily repay the new fee hikes, while Sally, who works for the Aboriginal Legal Service, will feel the burden over her career. Both will have the same higher HELP debt, which will impede their ability to buy a house, start a business or even start a family. So while it works like a big new tax, over a career, it's a flat, not a progressive, one.
The Liberal and National parties have proven repeatedly that budget repair is a slogan, not a policy. Their ideological attraction to cutting government spending means they can't see the revenue problem.
For starters, a party serious about budget repair would have never ruled out reforms to negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount. This doesn't just cost the budget $10 billion, it also locks first-home buyers and young people out of the housing market.
If the Coalition was serious about budget repair, it'd also talk about the next round of reforms of the $36 billion worth of superannuation tax concessions, which overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest.
Tackling the deficit without looking at revenue is like tying one hand behind your back. Unless you're not serious about reducing the deficit, and just using it as an excuse to cut taxes for business and to reduce spending.
There is such a thing as good debt and bad debt. Borrowing money to buy a family home is good debt; putting your overseas holiday on your credit card is bad debt in the sense that it's unlikely to pay for itself in the future. Needless to say, bad debt is often more fun than a mortgage.
Now is the ideal time for the government to borrow money. Interest rates are at historic lows, making it a good time to borrow for well-priced long-term assets, whether you're an average Australian or the federal government. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed people is growing and the economy is sluggish, making it a good time for government spending.
Well-targeted infrastructure spending is often an ideal investment. Not only does it create jobs, it builds things like hospitals to ensure Australians don't die early, schools that create an educated and skilled workforce, and the national broadband network, which benefits consumers and businesses.
The danger for Turnbull is that the Nationals seem to be holding the purse strings on infrastructure funding – and the only thing the Nats love more than pork exports is pork barrelling.
Possibly Australia's longest-running infrastructure debacle is the Ord River project in the remote East Kimberley. Despite Robert Menzies declaring that if he was spending his own money he would want a "good deal more information" about its finances, his and governments of both sides have poured bad debt into the Ord irrigation project over decades.
About $1.5 billion of public money has gone into it, generating a return of 17 cents for every $1. Kevin Rudd put in $330 million to generate a stunning 61 jobs – over $5 million a job. Ministers Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce both backed this terrible investment with more taxpayers' dollars last year.
Canavan also backs the $1 billion concessional loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility for the rail line to Adani's controversial mega coal mine. Facing an enormous community backlash, Adani has now promised to buy some steel from Arrium, a move touted as a "lifeline" for the struggling Whyalla steelworks in South Australia.
In further evidence that the government's support for the Adani mine has long since left economic reality, Canavan went into overdrive this week, saying the order of steel will "sustain" 10,000 jobs in South Australia alone. How it will do that when Adani's own economist says the mine will create just 1464 direct and indirect jobs in total in Queensland is anyone's guess.
What Adani is really offering South Australia is false hope. Its order from Arrium is a one-off equivalent to less than 1 per cent of Arrium's capacity and less than 2 per cent of the Whyalla steelworks' capacity. At the same time, Adani has shot itself in the foot by saying it will buy the steel, regardless of whether it gets the loan. But under the fund's rules, if it doesn't need the loan to go ahead, it's ineligible.
Canavan took the unprecedented step this week of urging Queenslanders to boycott Westpac after it revealed a climate investment policy that effectively rules out funding for Adani's mine due to its poor-quality coal. Canavan argued Westpac was turning its back on jobs in northern Queensland.
But he is backing a subsidy for Adani that represents a direct threat to existing coal jobs in the NSW Hunter Valley and Illawarra, according to Port of Newcastle co-owner Jonathan van Rooyen, who told ABC's AM there will be fewer jobs in those two regions if the loan to Adani goes ahead.
"When we bought that port, we knew we were taking on a wide range of risks. But, I guess the one risk that we never imagined was that the federal government would want to subsidise a new competitor into the market," van Rooyven said. "That's not a level playing field: that's called 'sovereign risk'."
If there's a threat to coal jobs in Australia, it's not Westpac – it's Canavan's proposed subsidy to foreign-owned Adani's mega coal mine. Investing taxpayers' money in a loan for Adaniis bad debt that will badly affect the Hunter coal industry as well as the federal budget.
Joyce is a little like Stephen Colbert's fictional conservative alter-ego: he doesn't trust facts over what he knows in his gut. That's why he didn't need a cost-benefit analysis to know that moving government agencies to regional towns in Nationals' electorates just "makes sense".
Joyce isn't troubled by the fact the forced move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority will cost Canberra 365 jobs and rip $157 million a year from the ACT economy any more than Canavan is troubled that his loan to Adani will cost NSW coal miners' jobs.
Infrastructure funding may be considered "good debt", but we should be wary of the types of boondoggle projects the Nationals favour based on the intelligence of Joyce's gut.
Ebony Bennett is deputy director of The Australia Institute. Twitter: @ebony_bennett