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Opposition’s fiscal fury, distracted by Cory, will have to wait

The opposition has been trying to switch its focus to the budget, but events have conspired against it. Cory Bernardi’s homophobia put the spotlight back on Tony Abbott’s social views.

What do you think of the opposition’s new strategy?

What new strategy?” I hear many of you reply. That’s the new strategy that if you’re not here in Parliament House or watching very closely from afar, you’re likely to have missed. It’s about how the government has lost control of the nation’s finances because of falling tax revenues and a series of spending commitments, from Gonski to new submarines.

It’s been building through this session of Parliament, with a series of variations in question time on Joe Hockey rising to demand Wayne Swan explain how he will fund his “$120 billion black hole”, to which Swan rises to attack Hockey’s “$70 billion black hole”. Or, commonly, “crater”. The days of Kim Beazley’s “$10 billion black hole” look positively benign.

Whatever the financial size of the abyss, it’s also sucking in common sense. Yesterday Swan insisted the opposition could “huff and puff but they are not going to blow their crater away”. Yes, the nation’s Treasurer, Wayne “I so was not reading from that document” Swan actually said that. As a wag pointed out on Twitter, blowing a crater away would just leave a bigger crater.

Oh wait, maybe that was Swan’s point.

Away from the Parliamentary battle of the black holes — let us pray they don’t combine into a vast super fiscal black hole that swallows the entire budget — Joe Hockey outlined the issue to the Coalition joint party room on Tuesday, predicting a fall in revenue of $20-25 billion and claiming the government would try to cook the books by changing public service accounting treatments.

The fiscal focus has a couple of advantages. It’s less personal than the opposition’s incessant attacks on the Prime Minster’s honesty, which as a rich vein of voter sentiment might be looking a little played out. It’s less at war with basic facts, like the predictions of a carbon price-borne apocalypse. It will also serve as a spine-stiffener for the insufficiently fiscally rigorous in the Coalition, whose numbers include, but aren’t limited to, the Nationals. There are real questions about softening corporate tax revenue, although nothing a government with a steady hand and a willingness to pursue savings should be too troubled by (though the same can’t be said for the state governments).

Alas, despite some enthusiastic assistance from The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, the strategy has barely registered. Partly for reasons over which the opposition has no control — the whole tone of politics has been muted with Julia Gillard’s bereavement and the succession of funerals for our soldiers from Afghanistan, which the PM and Abbott have attended, keeping them out of Parliament.

And then, yesterday, because of Cory Bernardi, a loathsome individual convinced of his own political genius, who has peddled some particularly offensive views on any number of issues. Now he’s been banished to the backbench, most likely for a long, long spell, although he remains chair of the Standing Committee of Senator’s Interests, in which position he has bottled up any action on the code of conduct for parliamentarians proposed by Rob Oakeshott.

Bernardi’s real sin, from Tony Abbott’s perspective, was to turn attention back on exactly the issue that Abbott wants to get away from: his social views, which Labor has exploited to seeming good effect. Almost 60% of voters think Abbott is “narrow-minded”, according to this week’s Essential Report. That includes 32% of Liberal voters. Some 53% think he’s intolerant. And there was Bernardi uttering homophobic drivel. Anything less than dismissing him was going to reinforce exactly the case that Labor has been working to make about him.

So, today, we return to something more like politics as usual. Abbott did the decent thing and made sure the first question yesterday was not to the PM, who’d sat down in tears moments before. It’ll be back on today. But Parliament is rising this evening for two weeks. The opposition’s fiscal attack will have to wait.

16
  • 1
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    The oppositions “fiscal attack” seems domed to fail for many reasons.

    Firstly their own numbers quite obviously don’t add up, massive spending programs and tax cuts planned along with the scrapping of both the MRRT & Carbon Tax make it impossible for them to have any credibility.

    Secondly with the Eastern states slasing and burning their way through the public service and things voters like such as TAFE, Education & Health people are a becoming a little less enthused about a surplus at all costs attitude.

    And third the drop in tax revenue is being dramatically overplayed. China are still expected to grow at 7% (which is very good especially when you factor in the increased base it is working off) and has recently announced a trillion dollar infrastructure program which should see the Iron Ore and coal price continue their rebound and volumes continue to grow. Plus their are more positive signs coming out of the US with the housing sector recovering.

    And finally after years of being told the ALP is ruining the economy in the face of continuous good economic news the voting public is starting to view the Libs as the boy who cried wolf.

  • 2
    The Pav
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    The other thing is that the opposition was happy to trumpet the S&P calculation which they now admit is wrong and their revised opinion effectively endorses the govt.

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Chairing a standing committe on “Senator’s Interests”? That includes “movie genres”?

  • 4
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    And as you note, despite the best efforts of amplification - of this off-note message - through media megaphones, especially the Limited News sousaphones, with their dominance of the orchestration pits.

  • 5
    fredex
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Fiscal fury is phoney and funny.

  • 6
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone noticed the other new tactic they are trying, whinging about the ALP female front benchers pointing out that Abbott is an idiot. I think they are starting to panic.

  • 7
    Holden Back
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    No, no , not the wet lettuce!

  • 8
    Steve777
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    The idea of cutting ‘wasteful’ government spending appeals to many ‘right minded’ (i.e. right-wing-minded’) voters. I think that they imagine that somehow politicians and others they disapprove of (e.g. ‘bureaucrats’, the unemployed, boat people, etc.) will suffer, but nice ‘respectable’ people like themselves don’t. And while there maybe some scope to trim excess administration and possibly a few programs of marginal usefulness that could be cut back, these would not add up to much.

    So any Opposition member loudly banging on about ‘excessive’ spending, waste or alleged ‘black holes’ should be challenged as to exactly which spending is wasteful. They must nominate which spending they are going to cut and which taxes or charges they are going to increase. They should not be allowed to get away with populist answers relating to marginal programs or that they will cut ‘waste’ and ‘bureaucracy’ . Whereabouts in health, education, transport, pensions or defence are they going to cut? How many government employees do they think they should sack? What handouts will they cut out or wind back? Unless they are prepared to do so we should assume that all of these are potentially liable for cuts.

  • 9
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Is it true (as on Ch 7), Abbott’s been filmed at a “commemoration ceremony” to argue for compensation for Bali bombing victims - then “campaigns” about other matters including the carbon tax?
    Using one sombre occasion to push another barrow or two?
    And those that point out his political opportunism on this occasion are “at fault”?
    All in the Bernardi backwash?

  • 10
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Klewso - You forgot that it was “to argue for compensation for Bali bombing victims” that the PM had already agreed to work with him on.

  • 11
    Al
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Loathsome is absolutely spot on. He’s positively (with apologies to all the snakes and lizards out here) reptillian!

  • 12
    Liz45
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    @JIMMY - Isn’t it amazing? Only the conservatives could turn sexist behaviour back on to the guilty? I don’t know how often people here watch Question Time, if at all, but it’s as blatant as the nose on your face. When the female Ministers walk to the dispatch box to speak, there are audible comments from the opposition. They continue while they speak. Today while Tanya was speaking, Pyne deliberately walked in front of the camera - he’s done it before. The tone in the chamber together with the looks and body language is really antagonistic - to say the least!

    It got so bad, that the ALP women spoke out about it - Tanya was one of them - she’s also made comments on Q&A of which I’ve agreed with her. The little catholic school boys in the No-alition insist on behaving now like they probably did in the playground. To think that some of them have kids is of grave concern?

    In sharp contrast, I can recall one question that Bronwyn Bishop has asked. She only approaches the dispatch box with rule book in hand, bringing up superfluous points of order! Does anyone know of any contribution that she has made this year? Of course, in fairness, she’s not the only one, and certainly there are males who appear to do little to nothing!

    While I feel for the victims of the Bali bombing, and hope that they didn’t have to pay for their medical, psychological needs, I recall that the men who were subjected to radiation during the horrific crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, plus the ‘clean up’ later on, have never been compensated - in fact, their claims of even being there have been questioned. Of course, like other examples (asbestos for one) successive Govts have fobbed them off, hoping that they would just die and fade away! Shame on those Govts.

    I’ve nursed snakes - they’re not slimy and awful to touch at all, or to look at in my view - unlike Bernardi! I find him slimy and objectionable to look at! Nasty little man, with a mean mouth! I can pick ‘em! I wonder what cess pit he keeps his brain in overnight?

  • 13
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    And the annual $60 Billion interest bill on an unsustainable $1.28 TRILLION national mortgage bill
    is not a big enough “Crater” in which to bury an entire economy?
    Are these “Wage slaves’” living costs killing killing employment?
    Why are employers going OS?
    Ask the Architects of this economic insanity; Howard and Costello and now Hockey.
    Hockey actually only weighs 60 kilos, the ultimate “hollow man”.

  • 14
    The Pav
    Posted Friday, 21 September 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    As further evidence of Abbott’s weakness as a leader he had to bribe people to get elected hence the oversize front bench.

    This measn at least two Abbott supporters are paid a loading of $45K each.

    The Australian Tax payer is subsidising Abbott failed leadership and this from a man who believes in cutting Social security.

    A weak failed leader and a weak failed man

  • 15
    cornelius ray
    Posted Friday, 21 September 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Joe Hockey outlined the issue to the Coalition joint party room on Tuesday, predicting a fall in revenue of $20-25 billion and claiming the government would try to cook the books by changing public service accounting treatments.”…fail and fail. Hockey has never been correct predicting economic outcomes, he is a dunce, economically barren. Then he has the audacity to claim the Govt will cook the books, geez Kentucky when it comes to cooking the books and figures, you and your equally incompetent economical disaster Robb take the prize, no competition. it cost you the Govt and worse the Monk The Lodge in 2010, when the Indies saw through your attempted 11 billion hole
    Of course the Tory party room would swallow it, sounds great, suits their narrative.
    Wayne Swan may not be the greatest speaker and debater, but by dollars and cents he knows his job. Whether Hockey likes or not, Swanny hits him out of the ground on money matters….good shot Swanny thats a 10

  • 16
    WTF
    Posted Friday, 21 September 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    First sentence on ‘About’ webpage: Crikey is Australian for independent journalism. Now that is almost as funny as people actually paying to read this garbage!

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