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Budget Special Report

Wrong day

It’s fairly clear that the big political day this year wasn’t May 9. The GST start up – and the days and week afterwards – will be the crucial time for politics and the economy this year, not the Budget.

Blink and you missed it. The 2000-2001 Budget is just so thin. Hillary’s seen more than a few Budgets, but can’t remember one where virtually all the key points were already known.

A few select leaks always get out each year – a couple of the goodies, a couple of the nasties – but this year the main features of the Budget have been public for up to two years.

The centrepiece of the Budget speech was the GST tax cuts. We first heard about them in 1998. Are you still excited? Oh. Right. That’s probably why we had to hear all about them again.

The kinder, gentler parts – the family measures – were largely announced last month. The extra RARA programs were completely unexpected. Not.

The fact that the Timor levy’s gone is almost news – after all, it was only leaked last week. However, you don’t need to be Paul Keating to wonder if at least some of the projected Timor expenditure could have been avoided if we had a half competent foreign minister and a PM who isn’t scared of Asia.

And the nasties? Well, we’ve all heard those three dread letter G-S-T. We didn’t need to be reminded once again.

Hillary hates to say it, but once again this Budget seems to all come down to the PM’s preoccupations – and once again show just how little they amount to.

True, important work on the bottom line has been done. Hillary admires the fact that there are journos who don’t piss themselves laughing when Labor talks about a phony surplus – let alone when the Democrats spout the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility.

But fixing the bottom line doesn’t keep you occupied forever. It’s more making sure the house you’ve just bought is clean. It’s something you do before you settle in and keep an eye on, not a lifetime’s vocation – unless you’re an obsessive compulsive.

The Budget isn’t just a reading from the cash book. It’s where governments – and leaders – set their goals and vision for the financial strength and security of the nation – the fundamental that underpins all of our endeavors. Tonight’s Budget shows just how lacking in vision – and leadership – our Prime Miniature is.

The “great tax adventure” was only a thrill for actuaries. For everybody else, it was just an inevitability that would come about one day or another. By the time the PM and the Democrats had finished chopping it around, it had become more of a liability.

Covering up just what a mess resulted from the Howard-Lees deal isn’t exactly inspiring. Talking about our brave diggers in Timor doesn’t do much when we consider how failings in our foreign policy left a people brutalised and a nation burnt to the ground.

So What Else Is There ?

Well, there’s rural and regional Australia. Rah-rah for RARA. Hillary can’t exactly say that he/she has gone through many of the Deakin or Watson Government budgets in detail of late – but still, Hillary can’t remember that they included many measures to help lamplighters at risk by stopping the spread of electricity. It might actually be better policy to point out to the cockies that the world is changing and moving on – and help them through that – rather than pretending to hold back the tide.

And after that? Ah. He we get into the real John Howard stuff.

Here are our national priorities. We will clamp down on dole bludgers and illegal immigrants. We will not look higher than the Hills hoist – or further than the back fence. It’s a big, frightening world out there. If we find someone to pick on – and pick on them really hard – then we should become preoccupied and won’t feel so scared.

It is pathetic that these should figure as key items in a Budget speech. Maintaining the integrity of borders is a fundamental role of any government . So is running an efficient – and effective – social security system. But the Howard Government seems to think that Stan Zemanek is a great philosopher, and so what Stan says goes.

John Howard, the Ted Bullpit of Australian politics. With him, we’re all safe – sorry, we’re all comfortable and relaxed – at home in Kingswood country.

Forget it.

The Miracle Of The Mad Monk

With such a ho-hum Budget, there was only really one big Budget day surprise. This morning jaws fell slack across Canberra as ministers, staffers and public servants opened the Fin and discovered that Tony Abbott had actually written an article that dealt with his own portfolio area.

Surely “Lord, make me good – but not yet” was always his prayer.

Budget Bashes

The Budget lock up is a wonderful idea. The journos can all have their articles written by the time the actual speech begins at 7:30 and then rush out and get pissed. Ministerial staffers have long since had their say and the pressies have finished off their releases days earlier, so they join the throng that gathers at Canberra’s watering holes. Hillary knows from personal experience that it’s not unknown for members – or ministers – to be worse for wear and ready for a party even before the Treasurer has got to his feet.

The only people left around the House by 10:00 pm are current affairs producers, poor opposition members and the odd Dem desperately trying to look relevant plus a few third division pundits who need to be quoted somewhere to keep their jobs. Even this mob soon give up and join everyone else at the pub.

Yes, folks. On Budget night Canberra sure is a swingin’ town.

Hillary was fortunate enough to be present a few years back when the 7:30 Report host Kerry O’Brien and Piers Ackerman from the Sydney Telegraph had their celebrated dust up – and enjoyed the entertainment later in the evening when a couple of Age staff came to blows.

This year, however, it looks as if Budget bad behaviour will have to measure up to a whole new standard set a few weeks ago at a do thrown by the Minister for Financial Services, Joe “Hindenburg” Hockey.

Alan Ramsey has already reported a couple of details from the entertaining evening in his Sydney Morning Herald column – but other material may have been deemed unsuitable for a family newspaper.

Going by the quantity of booze at the party, the Hindenburg was very keen to improve his standing with the Gallery. The bonhomie, alas, may have flowed to freely.

Not content with tipping wine over Financial Review correspondent Steve Lewis, the Hindenburg also engaged in a wrestling match with Telegraph bureau chief Malcolm Farr. To show his sensitive side, he then attempted – attempted – a tango with the Fin’s Louise Dodson.

The Treasurer and a few other heavy hitters had been stuck in an Expenditure Review Committee meeting and arrived late – but didn’t hang around when they saw just how much the party spirit had already infected the other guests.

Still, the show went on – until the night finally ended with a young Hindenburg crew member leaving a nasty surprise on the office sofa for the cleaners to deal with in the morning (something that has become the subject of a not a few complaints to the Joint House Department, or so it is said).

It’s going to be hard to trump the results of Hindenburg’s hospitality, but Hillary promises to pass on the gory details of Budget night in next week’s column – if anyone can remember.

Hillary Bray can be contacted under a table in Manuka. Or Kingston. Maybe.


Peter Fray

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