‘Commonwealth Budget 2016 and the size and direction of government’, Honest History, 5 May 2016 updated
There has been lots of Budget analysis. Honest History wishes only to note the specifically commemorative elements and pick out some other aspects that match the interests of our website. We don’t claim that our selection of commentary is representative but we were particularly interested in pieces which took a historical perspective or which attempted to see the Budget as it should be seen, as a fiscal instrument and an agenda setter, not just a profit and loss statement like a small business would produce.
Veterans’ Affairs and Anzac centenary
Minister Tehan summed up the Veterans’ Affairs numbers in a succinct press statement, most of which addressed the issues of veterans’ welfare to which 99 per cent of the portfolio’s money – not 99.9 per cent as a former minister once tried to say – is directed. These included $37.9 million to expand eligibility for treatment for mental health conditions, $1 million for suicide awareness and prevention workshops and a $48.7 million investment in improving DVA’s clunky ICT arrangements.
On the commemoration and war graves side there is $7.5 million to refurbish and rebuild war graves and memorials though this is not designated as ‘Anzac centenary and century of service’ so we will not treat it as such. There is this, however, under ‘Additional Budget measures for veterans’:
$10 million to support the Spirit of ANZAC Centenary Experience travelling exhibition of Australia’s involvement in the First World War and subsequent Century of Service of Australia’s Armed forces in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
Further information is in the Defence Portfolio Budget Statement, which includes DVA and the Australian War Memorial. On page 24 of the PBS the Spirit of ANZAC money is described as ‘additional’ but elsewhere we find it is offset by some existing Defence money. Thus we will not add it to the tally of commemorative spending for the Anzac centenary, which still, in Honest History’s estimate, stands at $331.3 million for the Commonwealth and $566.8 million overall (the balance comprising $140.5 million for the states and territories – though this figure should be revisited to account for any additions from recent budgets in these jurisdictions – and $95 million corporate). The big ticket commemorative item, the Sir John Monash Interpretive Centre at Villers-Bretonneux, is having its capital costs paid for by the Defence portfolio. We found evidence of this arrangement in last year’s Budget material but it has been buried this year, just as the interpretive centre will be buried beneath the green fields of France.
Notably, the Australian War Memorial’s statement includes this at page 97 as a ‘Target’ under ‘Program component 1.2: National Memorial and Grounds’: ‘Attending the National Memorial is an explicit act of remembrance …’ Is that all it is? Must there be an element of remembrance in the mind and soul of every visitor. Can’t one attend the Memorial simply out of curiosity or as a tourist or to do research?
More interesting than the numbers this time around were the two infographics produced by The Conversation on the size of Australian government and the direction of the disbursements. The first shows spending as a proportion of GDP back to 1970-71, as well as graphs showing what the money gets spent on, and international comparisons. The second is literally this year’s Budget at a glance, including pictures of the Treasurer with talk bubbles. This version seems easier to grasp than MSM equivalent efforts.
Then there was an article from Eva Cox on how women are still a key victim of policies which allow inequality to persist, a piece on our long-term environmental history (important given ‘our natural environment is the bedrock of our economy’), and a note on what is effectively our dwindling reputation in the overseas aid stakes, as measured by the numbers. More later on overseas aid. On the Budget’s effect on inequality.
Good oil elsewhere also
Other non-MSM outlets worth a look for their Budget coverage are The Australia Institute, New Matilda, and Pearls and Irritations. Finally, for a thoughtful look at the broader canvass and a plea for greater government involvement in the economy, see George Megalogenis’s recent Quarterly Essay, ‘Balancing act’, where he argues that governments have effectively forgotten that budgets are fiscal documents.