Federal Budget countdown: Gillard’s first ‘last chance’ to tell us where Australia is heading

This is a big week for Julia Gillard as she and Treasurer Wayne Swan put the final touches to Tuesday’s Budget. And it’s an equally big week for Helen Westerman, our Business and Economics Editor, as she delivers The Conversation’s first ever Budget coverage.

For the beleaguered Prime Minister the Budget allows her to outline a vision for Australia. She needs to demonstrate a steady hand on the economic tiller while also explaining why we need some budget pain now to deliver future greater gain. It’s not an election budget but it has a whiff of being Gillard’s “last chance”.

Why? Because if the narrative coming out of Tuesday is viewed positively by the analysts, commentators and headline writers and then that’s reflected in the all-important opinion polls (for Labor and its febrile machine) then Julia will be safe in her job as she builds towards a feelgood budget next year ahead of the 2013 election.

The Big Themes we think the Budget needs to address include: Is this a building-block budget for a Smart and Sustainable Australia? Does it help Future Proof against possible downturns (if say China catches a cold)? And does it provide the opportunities, prosperity and fairness for all Australians to share and enjoy.

In an attempt to answer those questions we start today with Tim Battin asking why the prevailing economic orthodoxy is hooked on “deficit fetishism” disease. On Monday and Tuesday we will offer a lot more preview coverage, while on Tuesday night we will be open all hours providing you with an “instant expert reaction” from Saul Eslake, Neville Norman, Chris Doran, John Quiggin and Carmen Lawrence.

After a quick nap, we will be back on Wednesday morning with a much more considered Budget Special when we will examine whether Julia and Wayne have delivered on those broad themes.

It’s a story The Conversation is hard-wired to tackle. Out of the complexity of economics and the fog of spin, we aim to provide clarity and understanding.

Be sure to make us a favourite next week.