When The Music Stops: The Dilemma Facing Australian Governments

In the classic party game musical chairs, the music seems to play on forever with everyone lost in the revelry and atmosphere of the moment; then, suddenly, the music stops and everyone is left scrambling for a chair to claim as their own.

Of course in the game, like life itself, there are never quite enough chairs to go around and some miss out, having then to leave the game disappointed and sometimes feeling left out.

This is the dilemma Australian State & Federal Governments are confronted with in 2014. The economic and budgetary music has been playing for decades, seemingly without stopping; so much so that many participants (code: recipients) have never experienced life without the music (Government funding) and believe it will (or should) go on forever.

And now! Suddenly, and apparently without reason the music, the life-long  flow of cash shows signs of being under pressure, and may even stop.

Heaven forbid! Stop? We deserve this! It’s our right!

This problem, this addiction to public funding, never-ending rises in living standards, and associated funding for worthy (and some unworthy) causes has been going on for generations and many cannot even comprehend why ‘the government’ can’t continue funding, well, them or their cause.

And of course, populist oppositions decry any attempt at cutting spending as ‘mean, heartless and morally wrong; indicative of the incumbents complete lack of empathy for the needy and deserving; of course, were we in power now we’d look after you, and keep your funding flowing.’

The challenge then for Governments, regardless of their philosophy, is to marry actual spending with actual income.

This principle is difficult to understand for most, a factor not overlooked by wily politicians adept at selling their ‘benefits’ to a needy voting public whilst conveniently deflecting pesky questions about how it all works.

The solution then is not so easy to determine or implement, at least at face value, yet when viewed against the prism of decades of political promises and counter promises it becomes clearer.

Today’s Governments don’t actually face budgetary problems per sé, for their real problem is not economic or fiscal, but political: how do we implement vital, urgent budgetary repairs and get re-elected?

How do we stop the music, whilst still ensuring that everyone gets a chair, or at least gets to sit in someone’s lap.

Real reductions in spending are not just important, they are critical to stem the life-threatening risks to our economy. This means that many existing funding streams will need to be trimmed or terminated; in some cases for needs that are worthy, that are important to our communities, that are of great benefit to Australians at large.

For many of today’s generation of Australians this will be something entirely new and something they have never experienced; we have become accustomed to perennially increasing living standards.

But now, in 2014, the music has stopped and everyone is scrambling for a chair. We cannot afford many of the niceties and some of the standards of living we have become accustomed to; including in some cases worthy things that we expect as a right.

We simply cannot pay for them.

Governments task in 2014 is to buy and distribute as many chairs as they can afford, as equitably as they can, so when the music stops as many people as possible get to sit; in the knowledge that some may still miss out.

They face the politically risky challenge of doing what has to be done, whilst convincing the electorate at large that it must be done for their own good.

“We don’t have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven’t taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.” Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America

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