WAYNE Swan's determination to deliver a budget surplus, regardless of the state of the economy, is seriously reckless. Labor has chosen to risk sending most of Australia into recession in order to keep a promise it should never have made.
No Australian government has ever proposed such a huge withdrawal of spending from the economy. On his own published figures, Swan plans to take us from a deficit of $37 billion this financial year, perhaps more, to a $1.5 billion surplus in 2012-13.
On Treasury's estimates, that would take at least 2.6 per cent of GDP out of the economy in 2012-13. That is equivalent to shutting down the entire electricity industry, all arts and entertainment venues and all airline travel for a year.
Why on earth would you do this in an economy that has added just 10,000 jobs in the past year, where the growth rate is just 2.5 per cent, and most of that is in mining and related industries, and with Victoria and south-eastern Australia on the verge of recession?
What Swan is planning for 2012-13 goes far beyond any previous budget cuts. In 1986, the hairshirt Hawke-Keating budget cut away 1.1 per cent of GDP. The first Howard-Costello budget in 1996 took out 1 per cent of the economy.
Labor now pledges to deliver cuts two to three times as large as those landmarks of fiscal austerity - at a time when most sectors of the economy are already going backwards or sideways under pressure from the high dollar and low demand.
Swan says it will be OK because ''the economy is moving back towards trend growth''. Not if you take away 2.5 per cent of it, it won't be....
. Nation divided, revenue weak... so it's a new round of budget cuts
. Don't treat fiscal policy as a morality play - IMF
. Glenn Stevens is perplexed - he thinks we're doing rather well