Amid the fanfare heralding a surplus that is better described as being more diaphanous than definite, budget 2019 masks the story of the entrenchment of inequality.
It is a story that has its roots in the history of neoliberalism in Australia, a history that arguably begins with the Hawke-Keating years, peaks in the Howard years, descends a little and plateaus in the Rudd-Gillard years, and then explodes in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison years.
It is a history that seems to obsess with creating budget surpluses, of exercising fiscal restraint, imposing austerity where needed, all the while looking for ways of paternalistically guiding and disciplining the people, and then suddenly, especially before elections, exercising unfathomable largesse in the form of tax benefits and cuts.
It is a story that celebrates the search for the surplus with messianic fervour but the reality is really about the creation of surplus people. These are the people who are left out and often made to feel that they are left over, surplus to the economy: people on low pay or no pay, young people, sole parents, people experiencing homelessness, people living with a disability.
These are the people who bear the brunt of inequality. These are the people who copped an absolute walloping in budget 2014, which made an artform out of cruelty, especially to the young unemployed.
But the more insidious viciousness has been masked in this year’s budget, which does not contain the same kinds of frontal assaults on people but rather entrenches, as a fait accompli, a trajectory of deepening inequality.