I'm a Treasurer, Get Me Out of Here
So a big night in Canberra - yes, there is such a thing - with the government revealing its long-awaited and heavily-leaked budget.
Broadcast in the east coast evening, the annual budget is the closest thing Australia has to the State of the Union address, although the treasurer takes centre stage rather than the Prime Minister.
Wayne Swan is a nervy and hesitant figure, and not a natural prime-time performer. So for television viewers, whose normal programming was interrupted for the night, this was less "Australia's Got Talent" and more a case of "Australia's got a whopping deficit." Or perhaps "I'm a Deeply Indebted Treasurer, Get Me Out of Here".
The budget has gone from a $A22 billion surplus to a $A57 billion dollar deficit, the biggest year-on-year turn-around in the nation's history - though ludicrously the treasurer did not use the word "deficit" throughout his 3,700-word speech.
This is a famously plain-speaking and straight-talking land. Surely people are grown-up enough to cope with the word "deficit".
As elephants in the room go, this one could hardly be much bigger after all.
Much of the post-budget commentary has focused on Mr Swan's projections that Australia will be back in the black by 2015-16, and the optimistic growth forecasts that assessment is based on. Though he predicts the Aussie economy will shrink by 0.5% over the next financial year, he reckons it will rebound to 2.25% growth the year after.
The dean of the Australian political press pack, Paul Kelly of The Australian, notes: "This budget is a portrait of an optimist in the middle of a nightmare. The world faces its worst economic contraction since the Great Depresssion, but Wayne Swan is a convinced optimist who has produced a budget for optimists" The paper labels it a "Wing and a Prayer" budget.
Peter Hartcher, The Sydney Morning Herald's political editor, suspects the country can look forward to "indefinite indebtedness", while Piers Ackerman of The Daily Telegraph suggests the Rudd government has "drifted into fiscal fantasy".
Here are some of the other headlines:
• unemployment is expected to rise to 8.25% next year, and 8.5% the year after. Currently it stands at 5.4%.
• skilled migration takes another hit, with a reduction of a further 25,400.
• the retirement age will be lifted progressively, reaching 67 by 2023.
• there will be an extra A$ 1.3 billion over the next six years to combat people smuggling.
• Sydney is the big loser in terms of infrastructure spending, which picks up on previous blogs. There's a suspicion that the Labor government in Canberra simply does not trust the Labor state government in New South Wales to deliver major infrastructure improvements.
You can get the full details at all the major news websites. ABC, for instance, has now launched an Australia in Recession special site.
Overall, the budget was nowhere near as tough as the government had warned. As George Megalogenis wrote in The Australian: "No voter, other than someone on more than $A150,000 a year, can look at last night's savings measures and say: 'Wayne Swan is coming after me'."
PS: The story which threatened to overshadow the budget was the revelations contained in the ABC Four Corners programme broadcast on Monday night (you can watch it on the web ) which has embroiled the game of rugby league in more scandal. I'll blog on that later in the week....