07/02/2014 - 06:02

Treasurers face big task

07/02/2014 - 06:02


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Joe Hockey won plaudits this month for providing intellectual backbone to the federal government.

Treasurers face big task

Joe Hockey won plaudits this month for providing intellectual backbone to the federal government.

In what was seen as a landmark speech, he said Australia had reached the end of the age of entitlement.

"I say to you emphatically, everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting. The age of entitlement is over, the age of personal responsibility has begun,'' he said.

"We need to help those people who are most vulnerable in our community. That is our duty and we will do that.

"But we can only do that on a sustainable basis. It can only be done if everyone who has the capacity to lift does indeed lift.''

Mr Hockey followed up with a similar speech to the Lowy Institute, saying the "cashed up private sector" would be asked to do more.

"The structural position of our budget is unsustainable... Individuals must do more for themselves, they must become more self-reliant," he said.

"The business sector must shoulder more of the burden.

"It must restore corporate accountability and rely less on government assistance. It must stand on its own feet and it must pay its fair share of tax."

His comments were seen as an intellectual support for the government’s refusal to provide a $25 million grant to Victorian fruit processor SPC Ardmona.

They were also seen as a softening up of the community for a tough budget, and for a series of tough reforms expected to follow the highly anticipated report of his Commission of Audit.

State treasurer Troy Buswell may have been inspired by his federal counterpart, telling a CEDA function in Perth this month that the government planned to show more resolve.

"Last year one of the ratings agencies said that one of the problems over there in WA is (the government) hasn't got the political ticker to do hard things," Mr Buswell said.

"They were probably right. But I'll give you a tip: I don't think they'll be saying that for much longer. We understand that we need to change and we intend to."

Mr Buswell’s comments would have been directed at several audiences: Standard & Poor’s, which cut the state’s AAA credit rating last year, the WA community, which he wants to soften up for budget cuts and privatisation moves, and perhaps most importantly, his Cabinet colleagues.

Mr Hockey’s comments would also have been directed at some of his Cabinet and parliamentary colleagues, who continue to fight for government assistance.

Mr Buswell already knows how tough it is being treasurer, after seeing some of the savings in last year’s budget reversed.

Mr Hockey will face the same challenges.

He should also reflect on the fate of Western Australia’s Economic Audit Committee, which reported in 2009.

Its work led to some interesting social reforms but it was not nearly as far reaching as had been anticipated.

Prime minister Tony Abbott has been talking the same language as his treasurer, saying the government refusal to help SPC Ardmona was a defining decision.

Mr Abbott’s hard line looked a bit wonky when reminded about a pre-election promise to make a $16 million grant to Tasmania’s Cadbury chocolate factory.

Mr Abbott used some cute language to try and distinguish the two, saying the Cadbury grant was ''essentially an investment in tourism infrastructure''.

Most people saw the two cases as remarkably similar; the only real difference was the political context.

And that’s the challenge for politicians, who must either be very astute in selling reform, like former prime minister Bob Hawke, or prepared to crash through, like former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett.

There is no easy way.


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