Every year, the Australian government prepares the Federal Budget, a statement outlining their intended income and expenditure over the following year. This is a good time to find out what a government’s priorities are by examining the way they divide up the country’s spending.
In order to follow the Budget, we will return to our fictional politician, Reginald Personson MP of the Generally Pleasant Party, as he watches the budget process in regards to one of his areas of interest, the Federal Manners Commission.
(To catch up on the story so far, you can read about Reginald becoming a Member of Parliament, and about Reginald joining a committee.)
In our last post, Reginald took part in a parliamentary committee. He, and the committee, recommended that the government consider establishing a Federal Manners Commission instead of the existing Australian Regulator of Niceness and Interpersonal Etiquette.
Now, winter is approaching, and Reginald’s party is preparing the Australian Federal Budget.
What is in the budget?
The Australian Federal Budget covers everything the Federal Government is responsible for, outlining amounts of money the government expects to bring in (through taxes, levies, etc) and the amount they intend to spend on each section of government business (departments, government facilities, welfare etc).
The Budget in itself is presented as a series of bills allowing the government to use money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is the money built up by the country for use by the governing body.
Three bills are presented to Parliament:
- Appropriation Bill (No. 1): Continuing expenditure for existing policies
- Appropriation Bill (No. 2): New policies and capital expenditure, as well as payments to the States of Australia
- Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill: The costs of running Parliament itself.
How the Budget is made
The Expenditure Review Committee is a group of senior ministers in the government tasked with making decisions around the preparation of the Budget.
This year, the fictional Department of Niceness makes a submission asking the ERC for enough money to pay for the establishment and running of the Federal Manners Commission.
The ERC knows that in order to fund the Federal Manners Commission, some other government expenditure will have to decrease, or government income will have to increase.
They decide that money could be taken from the Department of Sausagery, by removing the Free Sausage Bonus. This is a difficult decision, though, as the Australian public loves the Free Sausage Bonus.
A crack journalist, Michael Angelo from Hark the Herald (a national newspaper) gets wind of the GPP ending the Free Sausage Bonus to fund the establishment of the Manners Commission.
The Herald reports that the general public is disappointed by the potential loss of the Free Sausage Bonus, but the concept of the Manners Commission is liked.
After the Budget has been completed, it is sent off to the printers. The Budget papers are locked away until Budget day and are strictly confidential.
On the day of the Budget, the government organises a Budget lockup for various reporters, journalists and interest group representatives. They are given the opportunity to view the Budget documents, provided none of the information is published before the Treasurer’s speech.
They are put in a room without windows, mobile phones, internet, or any other access to the outside world.
Tables crowded with laptops and paper copies of the budget fill the room, as journalists and interest groups search through the budget. Some are searching for evidence of the new Manners Commission.
One of the Directors of “Aged Carers R Us,” who took part in the Etiquette Regulation Committee hearings, finds evidence of money in the budget set aside for the new project, and drafts a media release praising the government for taking the advice of the committee to heart.
She is unable to send the media release yet, though, as the Budget is not publicly available until the Treasurer presents it officially to the House of Representatives.
At 7.30pm, the Treasurer makes a presentation in Parliament, which is broadcast publicly through various media outlets (television, radio, internet).
At the same time, the Budget is released to the public. It is usually released on the Treasury website, and paper copies are sent to various interested parties.
The people who were previously in the lockup send commentaries and summaries to various media organisations, who usually provide a lot of coverage of the Budget.
This includes the previously mentioned Director of Aged Carers R Us. She publishes her media release, and speaks to the press.
On the lead up to Budget night, there are a few things to keep an eye out for, including Budget recommendations from various government or lobbying bodies and speculation.
In Decipher: The Australian Federal Budget, Part 2, we discuss what to look out for after the Budget has been announced, including analysis of various parts of the budget, as well as new projects and initiatives announced in the budget.budget estimates committees
Follow the link to read our previous political Decipher blog post, Decipher: Parliamentary Committees.