The Evolution of Fiscal Policy in Australia
This paper examines the evolution of Australian fiscal policy and the fiscal policy framework over the past quartercentury. Following the early 1980s recession, a sustained fiscal consolidation saw the general government budget balance (for all levels of government) move from a deficit of 3½ per cent of GDP in 1983/4 to a surplus of 1¾ per cent 5 years later in 1988/9. A severe recession in the early 1990s interrupted this process, and the budget returned to sizeable deficits which peaked at 4¾ per cent of GDP in 1992/3. The second half of the 1990s saw a repeat of the experience a decade earlier, with the budget returning to surplus in 1997/8. In contrast to the 1980s experience, however, the general government sector (for all levels of government) has recorded surpluses for the subsequent 8 years to the present. The paper outlines Australia's macroeconomic experience over this time and argues that there have been two significant medium-term factors motivating the extended periods of fiscal consolidation. The first factor, relevant since the mid-1980s, has been the large Australian current-account deficits since that time, and the associated build-up of net foreign liabilities. The second factor, which entered the public debate more recently, is a desire to provide fiscal policy flexibility to respond to the ageing of the population and the projected rising public cost of health services--both influences that are likely to be of increasing importance over the next generation or so. The paper discusses the introduction and evolution of Australia's medium-term fiscal framework which has been put in place to respond to these challenges. Copyright 2005, Oxford University Press.
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