Tasmanian budget: the numbers only tell half the story

The Tasmanian budget presents an opportunity for sound fiscal strategy and sustainable service delivery. So will Treasurer Peter Gutwein deliver for Tasmanians?

The Tasmanian budget, handed down on Thursday, provides an opportunity for a discussion about the future direction the Tasmanian government intends to set for the state — over this electoral term and beyond. While budget statements and the associated analysis will be focused on the budget bottom line, the numbers are not the whole story.

The complete story about the quality of the state budget will only be known if we explore beyond the budget bottom line and consider whether the budget:

  1. Sets out clear statements of the outcomes that government expects to be achieved;
  2. Establishes service delivery standards for critical services like health and education;
  3. Lays out the medium and longer-term fiscal strategy for improving the financial position of the government’s balance sheet, and;
  4. Is supported by governance and accountability arrangements addressing the risks that exist in delivering on the fiscal strategy, improving service delivery standards and achieving outcomes.

The most significant requirement of the budget is in setting strategic priorities. Budget papers talk about outcomes. Outcomes — in plain English, “results” — are what the government seeks to achieve over the budget and forward estimates years. Making these results statements clear is critical for setting priorities. This is a hard but necessary step in public sector budgeting.

The history of public sector budget management is focused on the “inputs” like employee numbers, school closures or amalgamations, consultancies and taxi fares. These inputs (“resources”) are paid for by the budget, but are not the purpose of the budget.

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