Tasmanian Budget: From ‘black hole’ to ‘golden age’, Liberals keen to take credit
Peter Gutwein and Will Hodgman mingle in the media room during the budget lock-up. (ABC News: James Dunlevie)
The Tasmanian Government’s fifth state budget has all the hallmarks of a true Liberal exercise and all the puffery of a real estate advertisement.
The first budget after being re-elected in March contains record spending on infrastructure, money squirreled away in the bank, plans to privatise state assets and cooperation with the private sector for a new hospital.
Terms and phrases like “superb”, “golden age”, “next level”, “literally building your future” and “turbo-charged” were thrown about by a cool, calm and collected Treasurer Peter Gutwein and Premier Will Hodgman.
The economics are on their side, with increased revenue from payroll and property taxes allowing them to fund generous election promises with change to spare.
The Government prides itself on black ink, and the budget contains surpluses “as far as the eye can see”.
But, surpluses don’t impress everyone. The budget disappointed welfare bodies who were looking for more relief for the state’s chronic homeless problems.
To them, money buried under the mattress does little to comfort those unable to find shelter.
Overall it was a no-surprises budget, but then, most of this Liberal Government’s budgets have been.
After taking office in 2014, Will Hodgman warned Tasmanians tough measures were needed. (ABC News)
The typical post-election budget confirmed promises made on the campaign trail, and unsurprisingly contained no new spending initiatives.
Interestingly, the only two big new announcements weren’t itemised in the budget, nor required government funds.
Mr Gutwein revealed he will sell the historic Treasury building on Murray Street.
The joke was not lost on journalists that the Treasurer had announced the sale of his own building on budget day. He wouldn’t reveal the price, though he had a smile on his face.
In 2015, it was valued at $18 million, but given that barely buys a three-bedroom house in New Town these day, it is expected to sell for much, much more than that.
Aside from Aurora’s customer list, the Liberals have so far resisted the urge to privatise assets — perhaps the planned sale of Treasury is an indication of second-term confidence.
Mr Gutwein also isn’t ruling out selling off further assets.
The second big announcement was a new co-located private hospital at the Launceston General Hospital site.
It was almost cheeky for Mr Gutwein to spend time on that in his budget speech, given it’s entirely down to Calvary Health Care and won’t require state funds.
Today’s Tasmania ‘unrecognisable’ from 2014
Oh, how the language has changed over the four years since the Liberals’ first budget.
In 2014, the party outlined a doom and gloom wasteland, warning of an Armageddon-style budget black hole set to suck up all of Tasmania’s hopes and dreams.
Public service jobs were slashed and cuts made to all sectors of government, to “stem the bleeding”.
Jump to 2018 and we are now told Tasmania is entering a “golden age” of economic prosperity, and is the most confident economy in Australia.
The budget trumpets a low unemployment rate, and an estimated 9,300 jobs to be created over the next four years.
“Our economy had been in recession, 10,000 jobs had been lost and the unemployment rate had reached over 8 per cent,” Mr Gutwein told the Parliament today.
“Compared to where we were in 2014, today Tasmania is unrecognisable,” he said, adding the Liberals had “brought spending under control without causing economic contraction”.
Tourism is booming and high-vis fluorescent vests are in high demand, with $2.6 billion of infrastructure projects in the pipeline.
But from the black holes of 2014 to the golden age in 2018, it just goes to show economic conditions can change faster than the weather in Hobart.
At the end of the day, the budget figures mean little and are just predictions from a moment in time.
Mr Hodgman and Mr Gutwein can pat themselves on the back and enjoy this moment in budgetary time, but the pressure is on to sustain it.