Australian budget

The Australian Budget has a history of running small deficits and surpluses with occasional blowouts. Contemporary history has seen General Government net debt to GDP approach 20% under Labor in 1995 and the Coalition in 2017. In between, a Coalition government under Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello ran surpluses sufficient to pay net debt down to zero during Australia’s mining boom.

Ratings agencies have adjusted the sovereign credit rating over time to reflect this ebbing and flowing of debt. In 1975, Standard and Poors rated Australia AAA. By 1989 the rating had dropped two notches to AA. It was subsequently upgraded again to AAA as the Howard Government operated consecutive surpluses.

The major vulnerability for the Australian Budget is the external imbalance in an economy that runs persistent current account deficits. Because Australian banks borrow so much money in international markets largely to fund domestic mortgages they are constantly at risk of international liquidity shocks.

The Australian Budget steps in with public guarantees to the banking system when this happens. Thus, although the Australian Budget has relatively low debt-to-GDP metrics, credit rating agencies demand that they remain that way to preserve the AAA rating as a backstop to bank borrowing.

Australian politics insists that Australia sustain budget surpluses ostensibly because it is equated with good economic management. In truth, the surplus is simply a figment of the property bubble at the heart of the Australian economy that requires the support of the tax-payer to persist. The Australian Budget is the key stone in the Australian credit arch.

In recent years the Australian Budget has deteriorated as the structure of the economy has left is denuded of growth sources. As the mining booms passed and the enormous household debt (186% of GDP) stalled consumption and investment, fiscal deficits became a key component in GDP growth.

As well, the disintegration of Australian political integrity associated with the end of the mining boom period doomed the Budget to successive regimes of neglect.

This very obviously undermined its role in the above system exposing Australia to deeper adjustments during future periods of global stress.

MacroBusiness covers all apposite data and wider analysis of these issues daily.


Chris Richardson talks public finances

By Leith van Onselen Above is an interesting interview on Switzer TV with Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics discussing the outlook for the Federal Budget. According to Richardson: Australia should have stronger public finances in the wake of the once-in-a-century commodity boom. Spending problems go back more than a decade. Both sides took a


PEFO shows few changes

By Leith van Onselen The Australian Treasury has just released the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO), which shows minimal changes changes to its economic, budget and revenue forecasts since its economic statement released on Friday 2 August (see here for Houses & Holes’ earlier analysis). Below are the projections for the key macroeconomic parameters:


WA delivers stimulatory Budget

By Leith van Onselen The Western Australian Government late yesterday handed down its State Budget, which contained the following headline numbers: Western Australia’s economy is forecast to grow by 3.25% in 2013‑14 before falling to 2.5% in 2014-15. Western Australia’s unemployment rate is expected to peak at 5.75% in 2014-15, before tapering to 5.25% by


Cigarette tax hike defies economic logic

By Sam Oldfield, who is an economics student at Latrobe University and an Associate at Prosper Australia. The Rudd government’s sudden increase in cigarette taxes completely disregards sound economic practice. Joe Hockey calls it “policy on the run” – he couldn’t be more correct. Making smokers the targets of Kevin Rudd’s war on anything bad


Fiscal instability spreads

From the AFR: The federal government faces a forecast revenue shortfall of more than $20 billion over the next four years, prompting a robust internal debate about whether the budget razor gang should make cuts to offset all the losses or delay the surplus yet again. Cabinet’s Expenditure Review Committee is due to meet again on


A generation of budget deficits

By Leith van Onselen Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) has today warned that Australia’s various levels of government could face a generation of budget deficits unless the tax system is radically reformed to shift the tax base towards consumption and land taxes, and expenditure is curtailed. From the AFR: Without fundamental change government deficits could balloon


Another Budget downgrade looms

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. From the AFR: The Rudd government is preparing to make a major economic statement before the election to reveal a deeper decline in revenues, as it seeks to reframe the debate around the end of the China boom and prepare voters for a further deterioration in the budget bottom


Costello versus Swan

By Leith van Onselen Over the weekend, The Australian’s Judith Sloan published a remarkably one-eyed critique of Wayne Swan’s record as Treasurer: Perhaps the most glaring failure of Swan’s tenure as treasurer was the non-delivery of a budget surplus in 2012-13. Notwithstanding the oft-repeated (and warranted) commitment to return the budget to surplus last financial


A dollar lift for the Budget?

By Leith van Onselen The Australian newspaper has today run an article arguing that Budget revenues are facing a potentially big revenue upgrade due to the sharp fall in the Australian Dollar, which has depreciated by around 10 cents since the 2013-14 Federal Budget was announced in May: THE tumbling Australian dollar is set to


Moody’s on SA’s deteriorating Budget

Fresh from Moody’s: Sydney, June 06, 2013 — Moody’s Investors Service says that South Australia’s 2013/14 budget — which was released today — shows a deterioration in the state’s expected financial performance for 2013/14, followed by an expected improvement in 2014/15. The state then anticipates moving into a surplus position by 2016/17, following a temporary


Secret of the Howard Government’s surpluses

By Leith van Onselen Little-by-little, inch-by-inch, the common misconception that the Howard/Costello Government were fiscal superheroes is unravelling and the truth is being revealed. The latest salvo came from the Sydney Morning Herald’s economics editor, Ross Gittens, who published a well reasoned article on Saturday arguing that the lion’s share of the current budget deficit


Treasury’s GST delusion

Cross-posted from Mark the Graph. In today’s charts we can see repeated overly optimistic Treasury forecasts for GST revenues compared with the less dramatic actual revenues. While the estimates in the Budget papers for 2008, 2009 and 2010 may have been plausible at the time, I have real doubts about the plausibility of the 2012


The decade of deficits

By Leith van Onselen The Australian newspaper today contains some interesting discussion on the state of Federal Government budget finances, which it argues are likely to remain in deficit for a prolonged period of time following reckless tax and spending decisions undertaken by both the formal Howard Government and the current Labor Government, which has


Joe Hockey ignores budget truths

By Leith van Onselen Yesterday, Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, delivered his budget reply speech to the National Press Club (below), which contained some spurious assertions about the causes of recent budget deficits, whilst ignoring the former Howard Government’s role in creating the current structural budget deficit. Let’s take a look. The Government’s sixth budget fundamentally


Australia’s painful budget choice

Cross-posted from The Conversation More than a decade ago the federal treasury produced the first Intergenerational Report (IGR), warning of the challenges facing the Australian economy due to demographic change. The IGR warned that the living standards of future generations would depend on the decisions made at that time. Unfortunately budgetary decisions made in the


Coalition paints itself into corner on Budget

By Leith van Onselen Tonight’s Budget reply speech from Tony Abbott is set to be yet another display of “small target” politics. We can expect the Opposition leader to bag-out the Government’s financial record, all the while recycling the myth that the former Coalition Howard/Costello Government was a sound financial manager, a view debunked recently


Careful of the fiscal drag, Tony

It is quite something to watch how far out of step Australia’s political Budget narrative is with the reality of the current and future role of government spending in the economy. The Opposition’s constant attacks, along with the loon pond agenda loose in the MSM business press, has everyone thinking that this Budget is a


Irvine the pick of Budget dross

By Leith van Onselen Finally, a mainstream commentator – Jessica Irvine – has nailed the dilemma facing the Federal Budget, irrespective of who wins office in the upcoming election. From Australia’s economic party is well and truly over. …Our once in a century mining boom is at an end and we have precious little


Treasury’s tasty raw prawn

You can read UE on the optimistic assumptions underpinning last night’s Budget. They are now universally understood as risky. The question is, why? We could assume Treasury is a fatal optimist. It would not be without foundation. It’s embrace of the “sell ’em dirt” policy over the past few years has been spectacular. And Treasury


The three horsemen of a Budget Apocalypse

By Leith van Onselen In today’s MacroBusiness podcast with Houses & Holes, I discuss three medium to long-term headwinds that are facing the Federal Budget, which are likely to lock the Government into deficits for years to come irrespective of who wins office in the upcoming election. The first of these headwinds are the falling


Foreign aid gets Budget chop

  From the AFR: Foreign Minister Bob Carr has confirmed Australia will delay for another year a commitment to lift foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of gross domestic income. As the Australian Financial Review reported on Monday, the measure could save as much as $3 billion. The cuts will see Australia’s foreign embassy in