PM surprising comment on the Budget
SCOTT Morrison today appeared to open the prospect of the much ballyhooed Budget surplus being sacrificed to deal with the human and economic devastation caused by the drought.
It could be the back-in-black boast of the 2019-20 Budget last April might have to go on the backburner.
Today's the Prime Minister said the idea of a surplus was for a government to be able to "respond to these urgent issues", such as the drought.
There seems little doubt that the drought - coupled with horrific bush fires - is an urgent issue.
The surplus was projected to be just over $7 billion by July next year - a relatively modest amount but potentially the first underspend in 12 years.
But this ambition and its role as an emblem of the Liberal claims to be superior economic managers to Labor is at risk from an accumulation of factors, including the demands of the drought.
"We do not set and forget when it come to drought," Mr Morrison told reporters today.
"We have announced over $7 billion worth of initiatives and we will continue to announce them. The drought is the first call on our budget."
Mr Morrison then indicated where the money might come from, referring to the efforts of Coalition governments over six years to spend less than revenue.
"The reason you get a budget into surplus, which we've been doing now for the last six years, is to ensure that you can respond to these urgent issues in responding to the drought," he said.
"And be able to do it, not just now, but into the future."
The converse argument is that if their 2019-20 Budget does turn out too be in surplus the Morrison Government will have a stack of boasting rights.
But other factors are in play, such as unwanted unemployment and underemployment levels and the squeeze of global trade tensions.
The political importance of dealing with the drought is adding to pressure on the Government, with former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce warning of electoral annihilation in some seats.
So far, we have seen the Government roll out a drought co-ordinator and a drought envoy - both with reports the Prime Minister refuses to release - and a drought task force and a drought summit.
But still there is no coherent drought policy, with the Government waiting for the ideas of the National Farmers Federation.
The drought and its consequences continue to be the biggest single test of Scott Morrison, and in these circumstances the surplus might be considered surplus to needs.
Do you think the government should forgo the Budget surplus to help out drought-stricken farmers? Comment below