Katy Gallagher handed down her first budget yesterday, and on the whole I have to say that I think she has got it right.
I don’t agree with everything in it, but in difficult economic times, Katy’s approach of “wait it out and see” seems to be the right one, and a much better approach than Wayne Swan’s apparent “slash and burn” approach to the federal budget.
Katy’s approach has been backed up today by the US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who says the recession in the US will end this year, as long as they don’t have any further major dramas.
The ACT budget has a forecast deficit of 247 million dollars, with deficits predicted until at least the 2015-2016 financial year. Predictions like that always amuse me slightly because elections before then could change the government, and the plans going forward.
None the less, if the economy does improve before next year’s budget, as Katy Gallagher believes it will, then it should be a fairly smooth road to recovery. However as her critics have pointed out, if things get worse, then we will be in for a huge slash and burn budget next year and the year after.
I think Katy has it right, but time will tell.
As for the contents of the budget, the emphasis on increasing rates, parking fees and bus fares instead of cutting services seems sensible, but it does raise a few questions. For one, if the government are trying to push people on to buses, which their expensive new express bus service is aiming for, and which I think will fail miserably (as I have previously mentioned ), then why are they increasing bus fares instead of car registration and driver licence fees?
Admittedly government owned parking meters will cost more, but this is hardly an across the board deterrent for drivers, especially with the prevalence of free parking in the parliamentary triangle.
Apart from rising bus fares, there’s no respite for cyclists. The free rides on buses for cyclists will end.
I also have to wonder about the new mental health unit for Canberra Hospital slated to cost 9.7 million dollars. We already have a mental health service at Canberra Hospital, and various mental health services spread through Canberra, and they don’t seem to communicate properly. Surely it would make more sense to consolidate management of these services to improve service standards, rather than spending money on new services.
I also note that there are still no bus services for the beleaguered residents of Hall and Tharwa, and nothing slated for Williamsdale despite the possibility of infrastructure out there. Yet the Alexander Machonichie Centre Of Respite For The Criminally Challenged has its own bus service. Go figure!
I’m not convinced that all the spending priorities are correct, but I think the overall sentiment of the budget is correct at this time.
It’s unusual for me to praise Katy Gallagher, but on this occasion I think she has made the tough decisions, and got them right in the process.