Scott Morrison is betting his political life that young people won’t pay much attention to tonight’s budget or change their vote if they did.
This is why he announced no new spending to help those struggling with high rents, high uni fees, or expensive public transport in this year’s Federal Budget. And it’s why he announced no new policies to put significant downward pressure on house prices, or greenhouse gas emissions, and nothing to boost wages. Time will tell if his bet pays off.
The prime minister clearly thinks that the federal election in May will be decided by voters who are older than average, richer than average, and more likely to live in regional Australia than average. As a result of that cynical calculus, he has aimed an enormous amount of our money at his target voters, while doing little to address the major concerns of young people.
Australians earning over $200,000 will soon receive tax cuts of more than $9000 per year. People who drive the biggest cars are about to get the biggest benefits from cuts to fuel excise. And business owners who employ a new apprentice will get a $15,000 subsidy for doing so. So, if you’re a builder who earns more than $200,000 per year, drives a big ute, and employs a few apprentices then this is a great budget for you. But for students, renters, casual workers, young parents, and those worried about climate change… not so much.
Budgets reveal the real priorities of a government, and this budget makes clear that winning the election due by May is the one and only objective of the Morrison Government. They aren’t just spending billions of dollars on car parks, dams, and roads in key marginal electorates, they are targeting their tax cuts and spending policies on the demographic groups who they think pay the most attention to budget speeches. And they clearly don’t think those people are young.
Higher education is free in countries like Germany; child care is free in countries like Norway and a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney or Melbourne is among the most expensive housing in the world. While there’s no doubt that recent petrol price rises have made life even more expensive for those with cars, there’s also no doubt that years of low wage growth has done far more damage to Australia’s cost of living than Russia’s brutal war with Ukraine.
Rather than boost the wages of the walking poor or raising the rate for the unemployed, Josh Frydenberg announces a one-off $250 ‘cost of living supplement’ for those on welfare payments. While it’s better than nothing, it’s also a far cry from a big and permanent increase in Australia’s paltry unemployment benefit. Likewise, while the budget forecasts that people’s wages, after a decade or record low growth, will soon start to rise, there’s actually nothing in the budget to make that the case. Hope is not a strategy and forecasts don’t pay the bills.
Scott Morrison is behind in the polls and needs to call an election in the next few weeks. If he is to achieve another unlikely election victory then he needs to rapidly spend a lot of our money on his targeted voters while not enraging the rest that he is taking for granted — that’s where young voters come in.
Elections tend to be close in Australia, often decided by a few hundred voters in a handful of seats. But despite how important a small number of votes can be, a large number of young people aren’t even enrolled to vote and another large group are enrolled but don’t show up. Scott Morrison knows this, and just as he can afford to ignore voters he thinks won’t vote, he can also afford to ignore the priorities of voters who he thinks will ignore his budget.
Budgets might seem boring, but they are actually the main way governments reshape not just our economy, but our society and environment. For example, the Australian Government currently spends more than $11 billion per year subsidising the fossil fuel industry and if they spent that money on renewables instead then our emissions and electricity prices would both be much lower.
Whether next year’s budget is delivered by the government of Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese will be determined by the votes cast in the upcoming election. Tonight’s budget makes clear that the Coalition believe that the votes of tradies and people in regional Australia will be decisive and that the votes of young people can be largely ignored. We will find our soon enough if he is right.