News and Views

Budget may have unpleasant bite

A budget that could return to bite us on the backside – that’s what a senior University of Queensland economist and political scientist makes of the Australian Government’s 2017/18 financial strategy.

Deputy Director of the UQ Global Change Institute Professor Karen Hussey said the newly unveiled federal budget was top-heavy and short-term in its vision.

“While this budget deals with the big ticket items like health and education, it’s at the expense of stabilising our climate, helping our neighbours to prosper, and ensuring our scientists and innovators are free to develop Australia’s industries of the future,” Professor Hussey said.

“It won’t be too long before these kinds of budgets start to catch up with us.”

Professor Hussey said the budget departed from predecessors by making almost no mention of innovation, science, and technology.

Instead it focuses on core ‘Aussie values’, like making it easier to achieve home ownership, supporting small businesses, committing to big infrastructure projects, and prioritising education.

“These issues are vitally important and there’s much to like in this budget,” Professor Hussey said.

“But the absence of some portfolios in the budget, and the cutting of others, reveals a remarkable parochialism and short-termism in the budget’s priorities.

“There is no mention of climate change, there’s a $300 million cut to the foreign aid budget, an efficiency dividend imposed on universities that will further stretch our science and research capacity, and an emphasis on securing energy supplies through last century’s technologies.

“The exception being the plans for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme 2.0, but our experience in droughts have taught us you need water to make hydropower plants work properly, so moving to hydro and not doing enough about climate change could be counterproductive.”

Professor Hussey said federal budgets were an insight into how well a government was able to gauge the sentiment of voters.

“Federal budgets are stark evidence of what the Federal Government thinks Australian people value,” she said.

“Budgets are strong on rhetoric, and second only to election campaigns in their capacity to reduce otherwise intelligent people to three-word slogans.

“The best governments get the balance right between populism and visionary, long-term thinking that reflects the reality of integrated global markets.”

Professor Hussey holds a Masters of Economic Sciences, a Doctorate of Philosophy, and a Bachelor of Arts (Economics and Politics).

Her recent research has focused on water and energy security, the role of the state in climate change mitigation and adaption, links between international trade and environmental regulation, and the peculiarities of public policy in federal and supranational systems.

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