Turnbull rules out largesse in May Budget
Don’t expect a fistful of dollars in the May Budget or from the coalition during an election campaign likely a few months later.
That is the message from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who insists the Government intends to make prudent savings “right across the board” as it grapples with a Budget deficit and rising debt.
The message runs counter to what Australians have come to expect from election-year Budgets from governments seeking re-election.
Instead, Mr Turnbull played down expectations of new spending, especially in light of a speech by Treasury boss John Fraser.
Mr Fraser said Australia could not afford to be complacent about its triple-A credit rating, something held by only nine other countries.
The rating was dependent on credible fiscal consolidation and a smooth transition to a more diverse economy, he warned.
The prime minister and Treasurer Scott Morrison both dismissed interpretations of Mr Fraser’s comments that suggested the rating was in jeopardy unless urgent efforts were made to cut spending.
Mr Fraser said the Government needed to retain a triple-A ranking to ensure it could service a Commonwealth debt interest bill running at just over $1 billion a month.
That figure was projected to more than double in the decade unless action was taken.
Mr Turnbull said the three main credit agencies had given a tick of approval to the Government’s midyear Budget review and its plan to return to a fiscal balance.
“But we’ve got to do so in a measured way. We have to do so in a way that drives growth,” he said.
The factor that was most important in bringing the Budget back into balance over the long term was strong economic growth.
Mr Turnbull acknowledged Government debt was too high and that it was being driven up by continued deficits.
“What we are seeking to do is to rein that back in by making prudent savings right across the board,” he said.
“Wherever we can find a means of doing so, and getting the right policy bang for a smaller taxpayer buck, we will do so.”
Mr Turnbull also committed the coalition to a tight Budget and not turning the election into a “fistful of dollars” campaign.
There is a possibility the Government will introduce tax changes in the May Budget but major reforms will be left to an election mandate.
Mr Turnbull indicated again the Government will run a full term, rather than go to the polls in the first half of this year.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the country was lacking economic leadership.
“What we will do is make sure we put Australian jobs at the heart of all our policies,” he said. AAP