You’d feel a bit peeved if you were Michael Harvey and Gerard McMannus right now; facing jail for supposedly receiving a leak from a public servant and not dobbing the public servant in.

I wonder if the long list of journalists receiving budget leaks over the last week will keep their professional code of ethics in tact when the AFP knocks on their doors? Although in the past the great torrent of leaks brought on by the budget preparation each year doesn’t seem to get the legal follow up that Harvs and McMannus endured.

The leaks are all part of maximising the budget selling period. The government needs a month of backslapping over this budget to pull the ALP back in the polls. If the government is still languishing in the polls by the end of this month, despite the huge 17 seat margin, the ALP is a real chance to win government.

The budget sell is on in earnest before it is even born. It’s Howard’s last roll of the dice.

Even before the lock up, the PM’s office and the Treasurer’s office will have already distributed budget packs to Coalition MPs, ready for a hard sell back into their electorates and into special interest groups. Local media has been bombarded with all the pork they can swallow. And that unlimited postal allowance will have had an absolute flogging.

Peter Costello has been telling us he’s been crafting this budget since Christmas. Jeepers – the bill for Crosby Textor will be huge if that’s the case. The lobbyists have probably had as bigger hand in crafting this budget and the way it is presented than Ken Henry.

As the Good Ship Budget leaked around him this past weekend, the Treasurer didn’t seem to do his usual pic opps of the past by going into the office over the weekend, conveying that he’s working overtime for the nation. This year, Peter’s media adviser, Dave Gazard, who’s a great operator, took a leaf out of his old boss John Howard’s book and told Pete to pull on the track suit and jog to work for the cameras. Nice vision Dave.

I suspect Howard will take a more active role selling this budget nationally in the next few weeks. And there will be constant refining and repositioning of messages based on research and how various dollops of money are being received.

And whilst a budget sell is a bit more than the old “Beer Cigs Up” headlines of the past, the focus will really only be on about 10% of the $240 billion spent. The electoral sweeteners and the polarising points. After 12 years, you’d reckon the government will have it down pat.

One of the things Rudd and his team have done well in the last few months has been agenda setting. Whilst I can never remember a decent budget reply capturing the imagination, this year it will be important for the boys from Nambour, as it could help slow the might of incumbency as the government pushes its post budget messages.

One thing is for sure. By the end of this month, we’ll know if the electorate is still listening to the Howard Government or if they really are in the mood for a change.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey