It’s money all round — but will there be a Budget poll boost for the Government?

Cast your mind back 12 months. Last year’s effort received plenty of praise in the media. There was a bit of a blip — but that was it.

This year’s an election year. The Budget’s impact is much more important. All eyes will be on the next round of polls.

The lessons of 2001 and 2004 and the Howard Government’s fight-back in both those years — plus the egg on the faces of many members of the commentariat after they supported Mark Latham –means that few are willing to make a call about this year.

But let’s be brave. Kevin Rudd needs to win 16 seats to govern in his own right. That’s a big ask, but one that doesn’t look out of the question on his current performance in the opinion polls. Particularly not if he manages to maintain it.

Comparisons are odious — this one in particular — but it’s worth noting that unlike Latham, Rudd hasn’t broken a cabbie’s arm. No first wife has appeared to say she was scared of him. No bunch of blokes who paid to put him through uni have come along, called him a c-nt, and asked for their money back.

It’s going to be harder for the Government to get a budget-bounce this year. The Government threw around billons 12 months ago and barely got a blink from the polls.

This time round they seem to have looked at where Labor’s getting traction and made offers of their own in an attempt to confuse the voters and defuse the issues.

Canberra watchers are already observing with scepticism how the Government’s advertising campaigns are ramping up — promotions for the family counselling service, the security hotline, private health insurance support, citizenship, and telecommunications.

While we hear about restraint, nothing seems to be done. Costello has been a lazy and profligate Treasurer in good times and the Prime Minister’s instincts are to spend and spend big. And more of that will probably be on the agenda.

As the election gets closer, if the Government sniffs defeat in the wind, we’ll see more desperate spending and more and more money flowing from the Treasury.

Not that there’ll be much detail provided. The headlines will be in the billions, but there will be little or no money put outside for the 2008 financial year. Instead we’ll hear about four, five and even 10-year spending plans.

If they get the Government re-elected, it will have three years to pick up the pieces. If they don’t, then Labor will have the tough task of dampening down inflation –particularly since boom may turn to bust during a Labor reign, anyway.