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Treasurer Scott Morrison’s 2017-18 budget speech, annotated by experts

What was between the lines of Scott Morrison’s budget speech? AAP/Mick Tsikas

Treasurer Scott Morrison’s 2017-18 budget speech, annotated by experts

In his speech to the House of Representatives tonight, Treasurer Scott Morrison claimed the 2017-18 budget was a “fair and responsible path back to a balanced budget”.

The Conversation asked three experts – political speech expert Tom Clark, linguist Annabelle Lukin, and economist Danielle Wood – to closely watch the treasurer’s budget speech, which you can read in full here. We’ve collected their live tweets of the speech in Storify below, and a selection of their best tweets and annotations is to come.


I know this has put real pressure on Australians and on their families. Terribly, this has meant some families have even broken apart. – Treasurer Scott Morrison

This paragraph is the treasurer’s signal to his base: they should regard the 2017 contribution as a “family values” budget.

In giving an address to the Australian Christian Lobby 2016 National Conference, just over a week before his 2016 budget speech, Morrison reminded people that his core constituency is among conservative protestants in the newer congregations and mega-churches. His compact with them is that he will always put family interests at the heart of his policy outlook.

He does not often express it in overtly religious terms, but he always makes it the dramatic (or melodramatic) core of his policy narratives. – Tom Clark, Victoria University


We cannot agree with those who say there is nothing that the government can do. And we must choose to ensure the government lives within its means. – Treasurer Scott Morrison

This is where the treasurer tries to communicate his government’s change of direction without losing the confidence of conservative supporters.

This government has very often in the recent past agreed with people who say it can and should do less. It has very stridently insisted that spending less money on programs is preferable to raising more for them.

Now the government needs to relent on that logic, so the 2017 budget speech needs to balance competing political agendas.

On the one hand, moderates and centrists need to know that Morrison “buries the ghosts of 2014” (which was a hardline budget that deeply shook this government’s credibility). On the other, conservatives need to know the Liberal Party will still tax and spend less than Labor would. – Tom Clark, Victoria University


I can confirm tonight that the budget is projected to return to balance in 2020–21 and remain in surplus over the medium term. – Treasurer Scott Morrison

The budget position is forecast to improve from a deficit of A$37.6 billion this year to a surplus of $7.4 billion in 2021. This is now the eight budget is which the government has claimed that we will back to surplus (or close to it) over the four-year forward estimates.

In reality, the deficit has sat stubbornly at around 2% of GDP. Underpinning these hopes is strong projected growth in income tax collections as wages are forecast to rise from 2.1% to 3.75% in 2021, which looks very optimistic. – Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute


To respect future taxpayers, this everyday spending should be funded from the first dollar we receive in taxes, not debt. – Treasurer Scott Morrison

This is a big-taxing, big-spending budget. Almost all the budget repair “work” in this budget comes from higher revenues. Revenues are forecast to increase from 23.2% to 25.4% GDP between 2017 and 2021.

Spending is forecast to fall marginally from 25.2% to 25% GDP. And most of the revenue increases are from personal income tax – because of the increase in the Medicare levy and bracket creep from strong forecast wage growth. – Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute


The Snowy Mountains Scheme is the benchmark for nation-building infrastructure. – Treasurer Scott Morrison

Government will be equity holder in these projects. These equity injections don’t factor into the budget balance numbers. This is the same treatment as the National Broadband Network. This has allowed the government to announce a sizeable program of infrastructure spending (western Sydney airport, Snowy Hydro, inland rail) without finding the money to pay for it.

Unless these projects generate a commercial return they will cost taxpayers down the track. – Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute


Mr Speaker, in this budget we have chosen to place downward pressure on rising costs of living. – Treasurer Scott Morrison

This marks the beginning of a long tail of the speech. I have tweeted it is the “we are listening” section.

The government is relenting on its resistance to banking reform, on its apparent indifference to Australia’s brewing crisis of energy supply, and on its insistence that remedies to rising house prices are worse than the problem they seek to fix.

Here are some of the biggest ideological about-turns from this government, so perhaps it is no surprise that Morrison comes to these details near the end of his speech. Along with many other elements, it points to a speech more carefully planned and drafted than his 2016 effort. – Tom Clark, Victoria University


The treasurer’s speech had much more topical diversity in 2017 than it did in 2016. We can see this first of all in the big reduction of the top-ranking word.

In 2016, the word “tax” was used 69 times. The top five most frequently used words constituted nearly 7% of the text (excluding the very-high-frequency words, such as “the” and “of”). This year, the highest frequency word is “new”, but it has only 25 mentions.

The top five words from this year take up less than 4% of the text. So, there’s less repetition of the top lexical items – opening up more space for other topics.

A further measure of this great topical diversity is the “type” (how many different words are in a text) to “token” (total words in text) ratio. The overall length of the speech in 2017 is down (from 4,548 words in 2016 to 4,336 in 2017). The overall number of different words is up (from 1,157 in 2016, to 1, 287 in 2017). – Annabelle Lukin, Macquarie University


The greater topical diversity also shows up when we explore some of the key word choices across Morrison’s two budget speeches.

In the table below, I report on seven key words and their changing prominence in the 2017 speech. Mentions of tax, jobs and superannuation were all down this year. Housing, health, education and infrastructure were all up. – Annabelle Lukin, Macquarie University


Significantly, we will invest an additional $115 million in mental health, including funding for rural telehealth psychological services, mental health research and to prevent suicide. – Treasurer Scott Morrison

“Mental health” has been mentioned only in six previous budget speeches (since 1981, which is as far back as my corpus goes).

The graph below shows the years it turns up, and the number of mentions. The previous treasurers to mention mental health are Ralph Willis, Peter Costello, and Wayne Swan.

It did not feature in last year’s speech. But this year, Morrison gave “mental health” a big focus, with three mentions in the speech, as well as a reference to “mental illness”). And, for the first time in a budget speech since 1981, he referred specifically to “schizophrenia” and “post-natal depression”. This is the first time since that “post-natal” anything has turned up in the budget speech. – Annabelle Lukin, Macquarie University


The speech in tweets

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