April 20th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Budget 2019: The dark side of 'back in the black': no vision

EUTHANASIA FYI: How to navigate the voluntary assisted 'dying' process

CANBERRA OBSERVED Take your tax cuts and be merry, for tomorrow ... is another day

FOREIGN AFFAIRS New Middle East alliance will challenge Saudis

LIFE ISSUES ALP abortion policy blithely tramples all our consciences

SOCIETY AND TECHNOLOGY Will Artificial Intelligence do the walking for you?

LIFE ISSUES Trump, Shorten and Morrison on abortion

GENDER POLITICS Women abused at Women's Day March

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Bill Shorten's bizarre electric car policy

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Revitalising marriage and family: an especially lay apostolate

ASIAN AFFAIRS Entire nations going out without a baby's whimper


MUSIC 1+1=Sublimity: Explanations are like the back side of a tapestry

CINEMA Shazam!: Ambitious teen finds out what's in a name

BOOK REVIEW What will be left us after the deluge?

BOOK REVIEW Author puts some great minds to work



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COVER STORY Budget 2019: The dark side of 'back in the black': no vision

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 20, 2019


  • A Budget in surplus enhances Coalition’s May re-election chances
  • Tinkering with rates gives no joy to families on a single income
  • Energy continues to be both a black hole and a blind spot in so far as no action is proposed to restore electricity reliability

The Federal Government’s 2019 Budget was framed with two things in mind: to establish the government’s economic credentials by returning the Budget to surplus for the first time since the Howard government in 2007; and to enhance the Government’s political fortunes in the run-up to the May general election.

Viewed from this perspective, the Budget was a success, with cuts in the tax rate for all people earning less than $200,000, together with a cash giveaway to help meet high electricity and gas costs, concessions to small business and retirees, and more money for health and education, two of the Labor Party’s key vote-seeking policy areas.

These have been accompanied by a slew of other handouts to fund infrastructure spending, mainly in the big cities, an end to the Medicare rebate freeze, a $4 billion Emergency Response Fund to meet national disasters, and a crackdown on multinational corporations’ tax avoidance.

Cuts to the small-business tax rate and a lift in the threshold for small-business tax write-offs will assist this vital section of the Australian economy.

Welcome as these initiatives are, the Federal Budget failed to put forward a vision for a better Australia – particularly in relation to families, rural and regional Australia, and energy policy.

Single-income families, in particular, are worse off than two-income families in the taxation system, and the Government’s tax reforms perpetuate the problem. Instead of manipulating the tax rates, the Government should have overhauled the tax system, to introduce family-unit taxation. This would have recognised the vital role that intact families make to society, through providing a secure environment for future Australians.

Labor’s solution, outlined by Bill Shorten, is to encourage mothers into part-time work, with new tax concessions for low-income earners, particularly those in part-time work. This does nothing for single-income families, particularly those with young children who need the mother at home.

Much of rural Australia has experienced mounting crises arising from drought, soaring prices of irrigation water and electricity, and falling commodity prices. The Budget could have been an opportunity for the Government to begin the process of drought-proofing Australia, through concessions for on-farm dam building, and a major expansion in water storages along major river systems. Nothing was done, so the crisis in rural and regional Australia will continue.

In relation to energy policy, Australians face soaring prices for both electricity and gas.

These are the result of rising demand coupled with an effective ban on building base-load power stations, increased reliance on intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind power, and state-based bans on the exploration and development of natural gas reserves, des­pite Australia being one of the world’s largest exporters of natural gas.

Instead of dealing with these problems directly, the Budget has offered a $125 subsidy for people on benefits to help meet rising utility charges. This money will go directly into the pockets of the power utilities that benefit from higher prices. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Although the Government recognises the crisis caused by the closure of base-load power stations, it has proposed nothing to resolve a problem that is only going to get worse as older, less efficient base-load power stations close down in the years ahead.

If alternative energy were the solution, we would not have seen blackouts in Victoria and South Australia following the closure of base-load power stations, and the growth of renewables.

In fact, there has been a dramatic increase in the price of power and a decline in reliability, which is obscured by backroom intervention by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) to close down temporarily the operations of large power users at times of peak demand.

The solution to the problem of a lack of gas in the domestic market is more complex. A partial solution is to require gas exporters from Queensland to reserve part of their production for the domestic market. But due to limitations in the gas pipeline, there are practical limits to the amount of Queensland gas that can supply New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

A better solution would be to expand exploration and development of existing gas fields, including the stalled Narrabri coal-seam gas project in NSW, which could supply a quarter of the state’s gas, and the fields in Bass Strait and South Australia.

If new gas fields were developed, the increased production would put downward pressure on rising gas prices.

Taken together, the Federal Budget lacks vision, and does not deal with some of the fundamental challenges facing Australia.

It remains to be seen whether it will swing enough votes to secure the return of the Coalition over a Labor Party that is beholden to the Greens and radical feminist networks.

Peter Westmore is publisher of News Weekly.

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