His mouth is moving – but not much is coming out
It’s all about education, education, education – and by the way, Miss, the dog ate my homework?


No. That’s how you were left feeling after Iron Bark’s Budget response last night.

He opened strongly. Very strongly:

“After 20 years of economic reform – some of it Labor, some of it Liberal – our wealth and prosperity have grown.

“But surely as a nation, we can make better use of our wealth. We can give it a stronger social purpose.”

He’d done it, you thought! Mark Latham had squared the circle.

He continued:

“We can use it to restore our services and rebuild our communities. We can answer the cry for help.

“This is what the Australian people are saying: it must be prosperity with a purpose…”

But what did he end up with?

“That’s my goal – to give this country a government every bit as big and warm-hearted as the Australian people themselves.

“A government as big and generous as the country we love.”

Big government? We want, we need big government? You’re
going to give it to us? Pig’s arse you will, mate. Pig’s

For the first few pars of Mark Latham’s speech last night, yours truly
thought we were going to be offered some of those gourmet policy
delights we talked about last night.

Alas, all it was was a rhetorical amuse bouche.

Labor dished up a donut. A soggy donut. A construction of stale third way ideas with a great big hole in the middle.

The icing was nice – there were some great lines in the speech – but that was about it.

Pity the poor wonks. When they couldn’t come up with an answer to
the tax cuts virtually no-one gets that Peter Costello announced on
Tuesday night, you knew that Labor staff had been bunkered down for 48
hours straight on nothing but Aussie’s coffee and staff caff food
trying to come up with something appetising – but failed. You are
what they eat, you say.

All Labor offered was the theoretical framework of a tax policy:

“When he was first elected, the Prime Minister promised to govern for
all of us. In this Budget, he’s forgotten about most Australians.

“He’s forgotten about the hard-workers on less than $52,000 a year –
the sales reps, the technicians, the shop assistants, the teachers, the
office workers (the backbone of the Australian economy) – who expected
tax relief in the Budget but got nothing. Not one red cent.

“For them, last year’s sandwich and milkshake looks like a feast.

“Since 1996 the average Australian household is paying an extra $9,000
in Federal taxes. Yet in this Budget, four out of every five families
and singles have missed out on a tax cut.

“They’ve been forgotten by the Government, but not by Labor. We will
implement a bigger program of tax relief. A broader and fairer tax plan
for the future.

“That’s the best way of growing the Australian economy – giving people
incentive and reward for effort. Ensuring that the hard workers – the
people who do the overtime, the families with two or three jobs –
receive a decent return on their work.”

We needed more.

Instead, all we got was a lot of detail on the ideas that Latham has
been peddling for all of his Parliamentary career. “Third Way”
ideas that blokes by the name of Clinton and Blair were articulating
over a decade ago.

Good social policy ideas. Very good, in some cases. It was
just odd to hear Iron Bark say “Under our policy, young people will
have just two options: they can be either learning or earning. No
third option of sitting around doing nothing,” when he had decided the
Third Way option on tax was to do just that.

The big problem with the third way social policy ideas is that too many
of them foundered on the reef of public sector union interest – even in
the United States.

What hope do they have here under a Labor leader who talks “big government”?

The third way, Mark, was about government working more smartly to produce better outcomes for less.

John Howard presides over the biggest taxing government in Australia’s history.

And, yes, you’re right. This Budget isn’t “a Budget of opportunity”. It is “a statement of opportunism.”

Your diagnosis is absolutely correct:

“The Government’s had eight years to address these problems and its
only response is an election spending spree. It’s run out of ideas and
it’s run out of puff.”

You’re absolutely right to say:

“I’m sensing that the people want to move past this Prime Minister.
They are not really interested in his one obsession: his place in the
Guinness Book of Records. They want to get on with the future. Not the
past, the future.

“The Australian people can’t afford to wait another three years:

  • To restore bulk-billing and save Medicare.
  • To establish a dental program and vaccinate our children.
  • To make education more affordable and tackle youth unemployment.

“As a Parliament, we can’t afford to wait another three years to answer the cries for help.

Australia needs a new government. A government that solves problems and believes in opportunity for all.”

And, yes, I also believe in:

“A government that delivers better services, fully paid for. A
government that uses our prosperity for a good social purpose. A
government that governs for the people, not the powerful.”

I also need to know how we’re going to get it. You haven’t told us that.

“A government as big and generous as the country we love.”

Not even John Howard would try to get away with that as an answer – and you know I can’t offer a harsher condemnation.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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