Budget research shows people want consistency


Research from the Institute for Choice is showing national acceptance of a budget may have more to do with people’s expectations than it does with a general sense of fiscal wisdom or even fairness.

Surveying some of Australia’s most densely populated regions, the Institute’s Dr Ali Ardeshiri examined how people have received recent budget decisions and what factors influence how they feel about them.

And they are not 100 per cent happy.

“We took responses from more than 650 Australians in Victoria, NSW and Queensland using a best-worst survey method on Federal Government expenditure across 54 sub-functions in the budget,” Dr Ardeshiri says.

“What we were measuring was the difference between how Australians wanted the $370.1 billion of their tax dollars spent and how the Government had decided to allocate the spending.

“There were some striking points of divergence. For example, Australians believed increased spending on school education was a high order priority but it was in this very area that spending was cut by half.”

Dr Ardeshiri says the negatives from big differences between where voters believe taxpayer dollars should be spent and where they are actually spent, are magnified if people believe the government had promised to support a particular sector and then gone back on that pledge.

“So when governments promise to support school education or health services and the budget shows spending in these areas is neutral or only marginally improved, people feel disappointed. And if the funding is cut then they are very disappointed,” Ardeshiri says.

“In the most recent budget our research shows that people were quite dissatisfied with what the budget brought down for school education, health and hospital services because of proposed cuts to those areas, but there were other areas, such as immigration, where decreases in funding were supported by the people surveyed.

“The message to all governments is that voters appreciate consistency. There’s no point making showy campaign promises to support growth in specific areas, if later on those areas are targeted for reductions in spending. At the same time, they should be alert to the facilities and services people believe are performing well, because they may be the right areas to target for budget savings.

“As a rule of thumb, following through on what was promised is the best way to get budget acceptance and satisfaction.”