Budget Explaining – but in Time?
More than two months after the budget, Hockey has begun meeting the cross-bench senators and has now called on Treasury officers to help him explain the proposed expenditure reductions to those senators. Such explanations should have been made much earlier and not only to these senators. They should also have drawn attention to the fact that the total level of spending being sought (relative to GDP) in 2014-15 is at a much higher level than when the Coalition was last in office in 2007-08 (25.3% cf 23.1%). Although total spending is estimated to fall by 1.7 per cent in 2014-15, that follows a real growth of 8.9 per cent last year and the budget should not have been described as “tough”.
So there is a lot of lost political ground to make up. But, while Abbott/Hockey seem prepared to negotiate changes and have actually invited suggestions for savings, they give the impression that they are sticking to the existing budget. It might be better to make a statement along the lines that the composition of the budget will be revised (or “rebooted”) but will still aim to achieve a 1.7 per cent real reduction in total spending. Further reductions in spending to compensate for spending not effected might include making a start to eliminate assistance to those with incomes over $100,000 pa.
Such a statement should also put the proposed expenditure in proper perspective in relation to both recent GDP levels and those of (say) 20 years ago, when they were reflected a similar proportion. As previously mentioned, the growth in per capita income over that period should be portrayed as an indicator of the reduced need for government assistance today.
The Republicans have decided to proceed with a lawsuit against Obama for issuing executive orders alleged to be outside his power under the constitution. It comes before the mid-November elections for the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate and will undoubtedly be a major electoral issue then. Whether the suit will eventually produce a court decision which has any practical effect on any of the President’s executive orders must be doubted. The issue of the division between executive and legislative powers seems more a matter for a constitutional review and referendum.
But the action does illustrate the marked difference between the US constitution and ours. We have no President and policy differences between our parties have to be settled in Parliament or at elections. Nor do we have a President who can announce policies but whose announcement may not be subject to change in parliament.
The decision to challenge executive decisions made by the President, which have affected a range of matters such as health, immigration, climate and so on, also reflects a more general concern in a wide range of democratic countries. That concern is about the extent of powers being exercised by governments, government agencies and judicial bodies. This is the subject of a recent book by Professor James Allan entitled “Democracy in decline”, published by Connor Court, and covering the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.