Is Costello’s budget good or bad for Australian democracy? I’ve been critical of the exceptional reliance on lumpsum payments, which certainly looks like bribery. But this is a presentational trick Australians ought to be able to see through (if not, the adage about getting the government you deserve applies). Leaving this trick aside the Budget is clearly based on the premises that:
* what people need is money in their pockets rather than better publicly-funded health and education
* we need to redistribute income towards households with children and away from those without
* at least for households without children, tax cuts for ‘middle-income earners’ (that is, everyone with incomes over $50 000) are more important than for those with incomes less than $50 000.
Labor will presumably accept the second of these premises, and merely argue that it could do a better job of implementation. But that leaves plenty of room for disagreement on the first and third points. So, if Labor takes up the challenge, we might for once be faced with a real choice, something we haven’t really had for many years. I’ll post on what some elements of that strategy should be in the near future.
fn1. As the scare quotes around ‘middle-income earners’ indicate, only around 20 per cent of all income-earners make this much money. And to get the full benefit of the tax cuts, you’ll need an income of at least 70 000 in 2005.
fn2. Neither Beazley in 1998 and 2001, nor Howard in 1996 nor Peacock in 1990 offered positive alternative to the government. Hewson certainly put up a radical strategy in 1993, but his radicalism consisted largely in being more Keatingesque than Keating.