Crikey readers no doubt still rejoice in the “ease the squeeze” or
“hoax the folks” tax and family policy exchanges from the 2004 campaign.
John Howard and Peter Costello’s Budget this year has that unmistakable
domestic air about it, too.

They’re fighting off what Labor calls the “triple whammy“ of “higher interest rates, extreme industrial relations changes and
petrol price increases”.

You all saw Alexander Downer get
cocky
over Labor’s Budget response yesterday in Question Time.
“I have sat in this Parliament for 21 years and I have never seen an Opposition
give up on Question Time on the Budget after just six questions,” he said.

But is the Budget as clever as the Government believes? Think about it
in domestic terms. Does it really strike a chord with mums and dads?

When families get windfalls, they don’t fritter them away on odds and
sods. They tend to invest in big ticket items. A new roof. A washing machine
that will last ten years. That sort of thing.

So what about governments? Do token tax cuts – and that’s all most
people are going to get – fritter away funds? Programs that would air-condition
more classrooms, get more and better, faster computers into school – heck, even
buy them more musical instruments and sports equipment – could go down just as
well with many of John Howard’s target voters.

Then – talking domestic issues – there’s the whole question of
childcare. What must it be like to get a job – only to be unable to take it up
because you can’t find the childcare you need? Women usually earn lower incomes
than men, and have to change jobs more often due to personal, family and other
needs. They always have a harder balancing act.

Does the Budget help them? How does it tackle their concerns about the
shift from community childcare into big business? Whose side do they think the
Government’s on?

We’ll hear
more about the triple whammy when Kim Beazley gives his Budget reply tonight.
No doubt he’ll talk about skills and education and nation building infrastructure.

But there’s probably a lesson for the
Government and Opposition in all of this. If you want to assuage domestic
concerns, take a long look at what domestic concerns actually might be. They’re
more complex than we’re told.

Peter Fray

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