Attending the Federal Budget Breakfast at Parliament House on Capital Hill recently, along with around 300 of Canberra’s predominantly business community, I pondered how I would assess the impact of the 2018 Federal Budget on Canberra.
As I pondered, I looked at the fine breakfast before me and drifted back to last year’s fiasco. Served up to attendees at the 2017 Federal Budget Breakfast, was a single large mushroom and spinach … organisers were lucky a riot did not ensue.
What travesty was this? What injustice? An attack on our very being. No bacon. No sausage. No eggs. Basically, no ‘pork’ anywhere to be seen on the 2017 Federal Budget Breakfast plate.
Fast forward to this year’s Federal Budget Breakfast in the Great Hall. Boy, had things changed. The breakfast was called ‘Meat lovers eggs Benedict’. As I stared at my plate of bacon and ‘pork’ sausage with two poached eggs on muffins with hollandaise sauce, mushroom and tomato, I thought to myself how much ‘pork’ there was on my plate at the 2018 Federal Budget Breakfast.
Why, you may ask, had I drifted off at the Federal Budget Breakfast, and was considering basing my assessment of the Federal Budget on Canberra by the amount of ‘pork’ that appeared on my plate at each Federal Budget Breakfast and wasn’t being captivated by the fine array of speakers lined up by the Canberra Business Chamber to inform us of the merits of the 2018 Federal Budget?
Well, for a start, the event was *groan* again MC’d by Sydney right-wing-shock-jock Steve Price (Canberra Business Chamber, ‘are we really that desperate that we need to ship this guy in each year?’).
Mr Price spent three quarters of his introduction talking up his ratings in, I think, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and chiding the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, for not going on his show.
The last quarter of his time was spent telling us all that he only came to Canberra to visit his daughter, who is studying at the ANU, and complaining about how cold it is here …
Not much mention of the 2018 Federal Budget or it’s contents or impact on business – or Canberra.
In fact, I’m not sure Mr Price had actually looked at the Federal Budget or any coverage of it …
This was followed by a run through of the ‘official speaking points sent out by the Treasurer’s office’ by the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar MP.
The most memorable part of Mr Sukkar’s presentation was the recurring use of the word ‘sober’. Everything to do with the budget was ‘sober’. I could only imagine the word ‘sober’ highlighted in the speaking notes, bolded and underlined with big red arrows pointing at it.
To my surprise, Mr Sukkar, Liberal Member for Deakin, spoke of the many benefits of the Federal budget for Victorians. He was in Canberra, speaking at an event organised by the Canberra Business Chamber, attended predominantly by the Canberra business community, and he was talking about his electorate in Victoria.
(Is it that the Coalition just writes off Canberra as a Labor town when it comes to budgets and elections, and couldn’t give a flying ‘fig’ about us? Maybe so.)
Then the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh MP (Member for Fenner in the ACT) spoke about the Budget. He toed the Labor line on the Budget, but also found some good grace to point out some of the things he thought were good in the Budget.
The stand-out performer of the morning was the ABC’s chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici. She had read the budget papers, she had reports and statistics and she had the references to back up her statements. Very impressive … and probably why the Coalition Government announced a cut of $83.7 million to the ABC ‘to ensure the ABC continues to find back-office efficiencies’.
But back to the ‘pork’ that was spilling off my plate this morning. I thought a question must be asked to validate this potential new economic index.
I requested the microphone and said: “I’ve been thinking of a way of assessing the impact of the Federal Budget on Canberra. At last year’s Budget Breakfast we had mushroom and spinach – no ‘pork’. At this year’s Budget Breakfast we have bacon and ‘pork’ sausages and I’m sure that the coffee has even been infused with ‘pork’. In relation to this Federal budget, is the only ‘pork’ the ACT will receive, here on our plates? Where is the ACT’s big slab of ‘pork’ from the Federal Government? Not the stuff that everyone is getting, but our own individual big slab of ‘pork’?”
Fair question I thought, as the Federal Treasurer had just announced a truck load of ‘pork’ barrelling in, what has been widely reported as the Coalition’s election Budget, promising income tax cuts on the never-never, billions of dollars of infrastructure spending, billions of dollars in tax cuts to companies and all sorts of little sweeteners for the punters.
I won’t bore you with the answer from Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar MP, but note that he started to outline the ‘pork’ for the ACT, and then quickly said as part of his answer that there was ‘no ‘pork-barrelling’ in the Federal budget’ …
So what does the ACT get in the Federal Government’s 2018 election budget? And what has the distinct odour of ‘pork’?
Well, the Canberra Business Chamber lists the following as the ACT Region-specific Federal Budget announcements:
- $100m to upgrade the Barton Highway;
- $100m to upgrade the Monaro Highway;
- $16.6m over three years to contribute towards capital maintenance of the National Gallery of Australia;
- $48.7m over four years to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of James Cook’s first voyage to Australia;
- $13.1m over four years for the Australian War Memorial to enhance its digitisation program and support core activities, as well as funding for development of a detailed business case for a gallery master plan;
- A net increase of 912 full-time equivalent non-military APS staff; and
- Annual increases in paid parking on national land, with the revenue to be reinvested in capital works by the National Capital Authority.
Liberal Senator for the ACT, Zed Seselja, desperately added in the following:
- $130 million in 2017-18 on ICT Capability upgrades for the Department of Home Affairs and the Bureau of Meteorology; and
- $41.1 million for Road Blackspots, the Roads to Recovery and Bridges Renewal Programs.
If this is ‘pork barrelling’ then the ACT has been given the couple of barrels of slightly rancid ‘pork’ that has to be eaten, but no-one really wants to eat it.
I’m amazed that Government spending on essential ICT in their departments of Home Affairs and the Bureau of Meteorology is seen as a win for Canberrans and not a win for all Australians, or are these departments now only protecting and weather forecasting for the ACT?
Ditto, funding for digitisation at the Australian War Memorial, capital maintenance at the National Gallery of Australia, increased paid parking in the parliamentary triangle and my favourite … drum roll, please … $48.7m over four years to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of James Cook’s first voyage to Australia.
Please don’t tell me that Captain Cook’s commemoration will include the construction of a big statue of the man somewhere I have to look at every day – such as Regatta Point near the Captain Cook Memorial Jet next to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.
The one big piece of rotting rancid ‘pork’ that has been thrown over the ACT’s fence this Federal Budget – and not mentioned by Liberal ACT Senator, Zed Seselja, or any other representatives from the Federal Coalition Government, is the announcement of the decentralisation of four ACT-based Federal entities to other locations:
- The Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations;
- Unique Student Identifier Registrar;
- Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities Inland Rail Unit; and the
- Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities Indian Ocean Territories.
The Budget papers also commit the Turnbull Government to further public sector decentralisation out of Canberra, ‘in coming months’.
So, that concludes my assessment of the Federal Budget impact on the ACT for 2018.
It is too early to tell whether my proposed Federal Budget Breakfast ‘Pork’ Index will prove useful. But, early data, like a lot of indicators in Canberra, is showing signs that it may be countercyclical to the rest of Australia.
Do you feel the ACT received its fair share of ‘pork’ in the 2018 Federal (Election) Budget?