The misplaced objective of the government of delivering a surplus, come hell or high water, has gone up in smoke. For many people, the cost of the fires is immeasurable. Or irrelevant.
They have lost loved ones, precious possessions, businesses and dreams and for these people, what lies ahead is bleak. Life has changed forever.
As the fires continue to ravage through huge tracts of land, destroying yet more houses, more property, incinerating livestock herds, hundreds of millions of wildlife, birds and burning millions of hectares of forests, it is important to think about the plans for what lies ahead. The rebuilding task will be huge.
Several thousands of houses, commercial buildings and infrastructure will require billions of dollars and thousands of workers to rebuild. Then there are the furniture and fittings for these buildings – carpets, fridges, washing machines, clothes, lounges, dining tables, TVs and the like will be purchased to restock.
Then there are the thousands of cars and other machinery and equipment that will need to be replaced.
And then there are the things that economists will not include in the financial ‘cost’ of the fires. The trees and scrub lost are one example. While their true value to humanity is huge, there will be no money allocated to the regrowth of these forests. That will just happen over the many years ahead as one day it rains and these trees slowly grow back.
For the things that have to be rebuilt and replaced, money will start to flow from insurance companies and governments. It will also flow from the savings of those impacted. It sounds crass to mention it, but money will start to flow through the economy over coming months. It is to be hoped, no demanded, that the Federal Government does whatever it takes to help rebuild the decimated areas and it looks at its goal of delivering a budget surplus as a pathetic political objective.
The misplaced objective of the government of delivering a surplus, come hell or high water, has gone up in smoke as the fires have spread.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg boasted that the budget is “back in the black and back on track” with the surplus forecast for 2019-20. No sensible economist agreed with the unerring fervor to return to surplus what ever the state of the economy and now, what ever other demands on the government emerge, but now, the catch phrase is obsolete.
It should be recalled – part of that budget surplus has been due to an underfunding of emergency services which at the time looked mean, but now looks as budget austerity gone mad.
And before anyone raises “these are a State government responsibilities”, try telling the millions of people impacted by the fires and drought this pedantic point. People don’t care about those system of government issues – they just want things to work and happen when the need arises. The Federal and State and Territory governments need to make sure the structure is in place to lessen the impact of these disasters when they do occur and to have them funded properly with equipment and skilled workers ready to act when needed.
This should be one of the urgent issues for the government in 2020.
Get in place the logistics needed for when the next fires, floods or cyclones come along. Make sure the support services have the resources needed to adequately tackle these disasters.
The government needs to embrace the big picture issue to tackle climate change. Fast track the generation of renewable energy – it will boost the economy to have the government invest this way.
Build however many desalination plants around the coast to ensure the bulk of the population have near limitless supply of water, that can be pumped into dams, down rivers and to farmers where possible.
This will be the test of the government in 2020. It will not be whether the Budget in May delivers a surplus or government spending growth is lower now than a decade ago.
That seems irrelevant given the fires, drought and climate catastrophe unfolding across Australia.