Benjamin Franklin is said to be the source of the maxim: “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

But a little reflection tells us that even these two certainties in life, while ultimately coming to pass, have a wide degree of flexibility as to ‘when’ and ‘how’.

Australian economic history tells us the certainty attached to promises made in federal budgets, too, tend to become a source of surprise and disappointment when the waypoints of the out years are eventually reached.

But, the budgets and their outcomes of the past decade represent exemplars of prudence and fiscal expertise when we stand back and look at the Morrison government’s 2020-21 heroic response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought financial and social devastation to the nation.

The government’s response to what has been described as a ‘one-in-a-hundred year’ crisis has been massive and represents what Treasurer Josh Frydenberg describes as a “monumental” task.

For ordinary Australians the rapidity of the economic and social impact of the Coronavirus has left a trail of bewilderment, anxiety, and anger.

The rolling tide of border closures, shutdowns and lockdowns along with a terrible death toll in some cities has stunned the nation.

The federal and state governments have acted in the only way possible to respond to the job losses, health threats, and economic implosion; they have created multi-billion dollar programs, virtually from thin air, to fund the safety nets to protect household income, prop up businesses large and small, and mount campaigns to safeguard the health of the entire population.

The 2020-21 budget, late, of course, has now provided us all with an idea of the scale of the cost of all the above to Australia.

We now know that any chance of a budget surplus vanished like smoke earlier this year.

The cost to the nation’s gross debt will be $1.1 trillion over the next four years.

This year’s deficit has been forecast at a numbing $213.7 billion.

The 2021-22 deficit figure has been predicted to be $112 billion, while the 2022-23 result will be $97.9 billion.

The only way this country will return to a degree of normality is through a vast program of job creation, training and upskilling, stimulus for
manufacturing and industry, support for regions and agriculture, infrastructure growth – and much more.

The Morrison government’s budgetary programs included measures to restart or kickstart businesses, large and small.

Programs include targeted help to boost the employment of young people (18 to 35) and greater provision for business to write-off capital investment.

Funds will also be available to boost specific industry sectors.

Agriculture and regional areas have received deserved attention.

There are new provisions to aid low and middle income earners through tax breaks and two special cash payments of $250 will be made to pensioners, carers, disability support and concession card holders.

The complexity, scale and duration of the government’s budget has won wide support but, as always, criticism and complaints about groups being over-looked or given inadequate acknowledgement have quickly emerged.

The task that lies ahead will test both the federal government and Australia.

The mind-boggling numbers attached to the restoration of the economy are such that one ‘certainty’ is already clear – and that is the projected outcomes of the budget position in the out years may bear little resemblance to what has been presented to us.

The job of repairing and restoring the Australian economy will not be easy but the government deserves credit for making a start.

We should not expect miracles and we should be prepared to cope with some tough times ahead.

But, if ordinary Australians continue to do their bit to help the national objective of a healthy, happy and productive country then the toppling of the projected $1.1 trillion debt may well come to pass.

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