Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cash for coitus scheme gets axed in Oz

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Australians cheerfully participate in a cash for coitus scheme run by a government that dangles $5,000 in front of those contemplating copulation.

The only catch is the encounter must produce a baby -- a loophole that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of thousands of Australians who can effortlessly manage both.

This week, however, Treasurer Wayne Swan folded his cheque book and told the nation to settle for colic and sleepless nights if they want to procreate, rather than a family holiday in Bali.

The end of the celebrated baby bonus was not the only bad news in Tuesday's federal budget, but there was no doubting its potent symbolism.

The bonus was as welcome as the sound of the pitter patter of little feet when it arrived in 2002, just as the mining boom was lifting off.

Treasurer Peter Costello made it famous in 2004 when he flashed his trademark smirk and urged couples to get on the case.

"Have one for Dad, one for Mum and one for the country,'' he urged.

Many did, pushing a sluggish birth rate up by as much as three per cent, according to one study, which identified up to 12,000 kids who arrived on the planet in 2006 not via the stork but the baby bonus.

The free money was a byproduct of perhaps the greatest financial boom in Australia's history, allowing the federal government to bring down a series of Christmas morning-like budgets.

But Tuesday night, Australians sat solemnly, like hungover teenage party animals after Dad arrived home early to find a car in the pool.

Swan said declining commodity prices, coupled with a slowing Chinese economy and a stubbornly high dollar, had handed the nation the biggest revenue writedown since the Great Depression.

"Powerful global forces and the stubbornly high Australian dollar have savaged budget revenues," Swan said in his budget speech, which also revealed an $18-billion deficit in a year we were supposed to return to surplus.

And so, as Australians might say after an unforeseen incident at a horse racing track, "all bets are off.''

The goodies are being swept off the table, including handouts of up to $600 a year to be funded by a super-profits mining tax that appeared just as the super profits disappeared.

Even nicotine addicts will be hit up as Australians face $43 billion in spending cuts.

It was perhaps the most dismal election-year budget in history.

But the Labour government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard knows it's headed for defeat in the September poll and is merely trying to salvage a few of its signature programs to leave some sort of legacy.

As for the Baby Bonus, which provides $5,000 for the first child and $3,000 for the second, it can still put a glimmer in the eye of a couple in desperate need of a second car.

But those wanting to access the cash have less than a fortnight to achieve conception and even then they run the risk of the pregnancy running long term and their money melting away like a morning mist.

The bonus disappears on March 1, 2014.

 

Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2013 A13

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