The Budget is the defining political moment of the year — particularly a federal election year.

After being down in the polls in the first part of 2001 and 2004, the Howard Government has gone to in win elections in the second halves of the year. The Budget has been the starting point of the fight-back.

The Government has been drifting in recent months. We’ve learned how hollow its big ticket items like the $10 billion water package really are. The Budget offers it the opportunity to gather its strength and restart its push to the polls.

But it also gives an election boost to Labor. The Budget may not give Labor targets to shoot at. What it offers is the opportunity to explain why it is different — and better. The Budget speech is the Treasurer’s big performance of the year, but the address in reply two days later puts the Leader of the Opposition on centre stage as well.

Labor has had a poor few days. It can expect IR to run as an issue until the weekend, but media focus will increasingly turn to the Budget and its contents. The Budget puts the focus on the Government — but scrutiny is part of that focus. Critical scrutiny. Budget week can help Labor, too.