There’s a common misconception that we need to have a budget in surplus. This economic claptrap has become an oft-repeated mantra, even earning its way into then-Treasurer Joe Hockey’s talking points. He famously claimed the economy was like the household budget, with debt being bad and savings being good.
Sounds reasonable, but there was a tiny little problem: It was complete nonsense.
Without a doubt, there will be those who join NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet in proclaiming the state government’s $4.5 billion surplus as “the envy of the western world”.
However, we’re not talking about $45 saved in a household budget. With those amounts, you can splurge on a muffin with your coffee, or even save up for a holiday. But when we’re talking about $4.5 billion of unallocated, excess funds that will simply slosh around government coffers? It’s foolish at best and economically reckless at worst.
This is not to say that Mr Perrottet and the state government have done worse than a Greens-inspired Labor budget would have. It’s not a bad rookie attempt, but the pursuit of populism and the sacred cow of “surplus” know no political boundaries.
That $4.5 billion surplus could repair every last road in Wagga, duplicate the Gobba Bridge and buy a fair chunk of a heavy vehicle bypass of the city. But we’re not spending it in Wagga. In fact, we’re not spending it anywhere. It’s going to sit there, wasting away as countless jobs and safety upgrades and hospital wards and classrooms remain on the wishlist.
Yes, there are some great things in there, like the boosts for first home buyers and the rebate for the kids’ sports fees. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that we’ve sold the farm to buy a massive jug of milk that will spoil before we get to drink it.
And lets not forget the obscene amounts being poured into Sydney’s transport infrastructure, the billions upon billions being spent to patch up a system that barely worked 20 years ago when there were one million fewer people living there.
While other world-class cities have become commuter-friendly, we’ve continued to shoehorn people into the greater Sydney basin rather than give them real incentives to move to real regional areas.
But that’s OK. The koalas are getting an extra $800,000. That’ll probably buy them a few turmeric lattes in Newtown while they dream of a home among the gum trees.