Research from the University of South Australia’s 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.
UniSA’s Dr Ali Ardeshiri has been working across Australia’s most densely populated regions to examine how people have received recent budget decisions and their response is a mixed bag.
“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 their $370.1 billion in 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 fallout from big differences between where voters believe taxpayer dollars should be spent and where they are actually spent, is magnified if people believe the government had promised to support a particular sector.
“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, 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 is little point making 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.”
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