Country's future the top priority, not popularity

BARELY a day goes by without some message of warning from Treasurer Joe Hockey about the pending budget crisis.

There is a saying that you have to repeat a message at least 12 times before someone listening to it actually absorbs the detail.

Mr Hockey is already close to double figures and the budget is still more than three weeks away.

It is a sobering message for Australia, which "survived" the global financial crisis and seemed to have an economy immune from the shortcomings of our European neighbours.

However, the message is pretty simple - Australia can no longer spend more than it earns without consequences down the track.

This is fundamentally where Labor and Liberals head down different forks in the fiscal road.

The message is pretty simple - Australia can no longer spend more than it earns without consequences down the track.

The Liberals see a balanced budget as a badge of honour while Labor views it as an annoying detail and someone else's problem.

Even this week we had Opposition finance spokesman Tony Burke scoff at the figures with, "countries that have a triple-A credit rating are not in the midst of a budget crisis".

This credit card mentality is appalling. Labor has always been in total denial about the looming budget crisis - denial in terms of finally ditching Wayne Swan's promised budget surplus when the money ran out and then making promises into the future that someone else would have to pay for.

An ageing population, fewer taxpayers and a slowing economy is Australia's reality in the next decade. In the past we were shielded from this reality by the mining boom and other revenue boosts.

But no longer. For an Australian government and our elected politicians to ignore future financial projections is to condemn future generations to a massive over- correction.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme and Gonski education reforms all had the major funding commitments beyond five years in the vain hope the money might turn up.

The NDIS jumps from $300million this financial year to $7 billion in 2018-19 and $11.3billion in a decade - a fantastic concept but ultimately unaffordable for Australia in its current form.

In fact, spending on our 15 most expensive government programs such as Medicare, the pension, family support benefits, health and defence, is set to double to almost $400 billion during the next decade if no action is taken.

Spending on most of these programs is running at almost double inflation. There has also been plenty of angst about the aged pension and retirement ages with the cost of the pension rising from $39.5 billion this year to $72.3billion in a decade.

Again, having a conversation and taking action on this looming crisis is critical when 86 per cent of Australians over 65 receive some sort of pension or seniors discount.

The pension should be a safety net rather than a hand-out to people sitting on $2 million homes and other assets that are not counted in a means test.

No treasurer is ever going to be popular by cutting welfare spending but making tough decisions goes with the job.

The kicker for Mr Hockey is getting the balance right and this means spreading the pain.

Overly generous pensions and gold cards for public servants and politicians need to be reviewed and business must contribute more.

There are more than 500,000 discretionary trusts that get generous tax benefits to the tune of almost $1 billion a year - this is welfare for the rich and all of these should be on the treasurer's table if pensions are up for review.

Joe Hockey may not be remembered as Australia's most popular treasurer in the future but plotting a financially sustainable future for this country is far more important.

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