Columnists Australia

Business/Robbery etc

Don’t mention the Surplus, Mr Fawlty

6 June 2015

9:00 AM

6 June 2015

9:00 AM

Like Basil Fawlty and ‘The War’, the Abbott government, in its 2015 budget selling mission, is trying to avoid mentioning ‘The Surplus’, that ephemeral pot of gold at the end of the yet-to-appear fiscal rainbow. Last week’s report by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office confirms the wisdom of this approach. Similarly, the Labor opposition is too embarrassed about its own bumbling backward stumbles in government as its repeated announcements of success in achieving budgetary nirvana were continually and humiliatingly repudiated. Labor’s monumentally incompetent treasurer Wayne Swan’s declaration in his 2012 Budget speech that ‘The four years of surpluses I announce tonight are a powerful endorsement of our policies’, would make an appropriate political tombstone as his guardianship ensured that more and more deficits spread forth into the future.

Even if things go well and the Senate surprisingly passes all the Abbott government’s ‘unfair’ cost-saving budget measures left over from last year (that Labor opposes), there won’t be even a tiny surplus for another seven years. And Treasury admits, in the budget papers, that the government’s target of a surplus of 1 per cent of GDP by 2023-24 would not be met from currently projections.

Although an upbeat Treasurer Hockey says ‘Our economic plan is working and things are getting better’, some things clearly are not, according to reports of a study by the Parliamentary Budget Office. This indicates that unless the Senate blockade is broken, another $101 billion will be added to deficits over the next decade, with the Australian newspaper suggesting the nation’s finances may never get to surplus. Maybe that’s why Joe Hockey’s budget speech mentioned it only in passing: ‘Our timetable back to a budget surplus is unchanged from last year’ without saying what it was.

So now that the government has dropped the ‘tough budget’ rhetoric of last year and eased up on the primacy of getting the budget back into surplus, it looks as if there really is the ‘budget emergency’ that Tony Abbott promised to fix in his response to Swan’s pre-election 2013 budget: ‘The Coalition will not shirk the hard decisions needed to get the budget back into surplus’. But if politics is the art of the achievable, maybe a bit of shirking is the only option and Basil Fawlty is right: Don’t mention the Surplus.

There must be some very nervous corporate boardrooms following the exposure of FIFA, football’s world governing body, as ‘a disgraceful cesspit of bribery and corruption’ complete with racketeering, fraud, money-laundering and obstruction of justice. For there to be 14 top FIFA officials arrested (with enquiries continuing) for taking millions of dollars in bribes, someone was illegally paying these bribes. Even those major corporations whose dealings with FIFA have been entirely honourable run the risk of public opprobrium just for being associated with these crooks; leading sponsoring corporations like Coca Cola, Adidas, McDonalds and Budweiser have expressed serious concerns and Visa is threatening to ‘re-assess its sponsorship’ unless FIFA mended its ways. Some have already gone; last December Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson did not renew their contracts, nor did Emirates and Sony. Prosecutors in the US will be eagerly seeking the other side of these bribery transactions. The world-wide marketing opportunities of a World Cup are very attractive – and worth paying for, one way or another. In the case of governments, national prestige in holding a World Cup – like South Africa and maybe Qatar and Russia – lifts bribery into ‘diplomacy’. Even Australia’s $45 million of taxpayers’ money spent on our spectacularly unsuccessful 2022 world cup bid (only one vote) is being questioned.

This sporting disaster is far worse than the occasional scandal when a few dishonest players taint their sport by accepted bribes from bookmakers to influence outcomes, or those who enhanced their performances through illegal drugs. These FIFA fraudsters were supposed to be running the game; making sure it was clean. Corruption has no place in sport; it should stay where it belongs – in government and the corporate sector.

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