Published: 17 March 2020

"We've kept the budget in surplus - forecasting for the fifth year in a row - and that means more money to invest in essential services that Tasmanians need."

Those words from Premier Gutwein accompanied the February 11 release of the Government's Revised Estimates Report for 2019/20.

There are only two things wrong with the Premier's statement. First there is no surplus and second, there isn't more money to invest in essential services.

Most people understand a surplus occurs when money received is greater than money spent. The Premier uses a much narrower definition of surplus. He conveniently omits many capital outlays and equity contributions into government businesses, many which have come from the Australian government and have been included as income when received.

The Premier says we're on track for a surplus of $10 million this year. His own figures indicate that when all capital outlays are included, the cash deficit will be $514 million. That's not a typo. That's $514 million. To say that means more money to invest in essential services, is, as Henry Kissinger once said, an inoperative statement.

To arrive at a surplus of $10 million not only are many outlays excluded but $135 million of income that was included last year has again been included this year due to a change in accounting standards. This change means federal grants are only included as income when spent. Unspent grants of $135 million received and included as income under the old accounting standards in 2018/19 have once again been included as income in the current year 2019/20 because that's when they'll be spent. How good is that?

Unfortunately it hides the reality we're spending far more than we're receiving yet in important areas like health we're still falling further behind.

The government is not telling us the unvarnished truth or presenting real solutions. Neither is the opposition offering tangible solutions. We all need to make it plain to both major parties they need to stop sniping at one another and start coming up with solutions.

Only the truth will help us work towards a fiscally sustainable future.

The Advocate Tuesday 17 March, 2020

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