Ministers have been singing from the same song sheet since Julie Bishop appeared on Lateline on Monday night — the Budget bounce is coming — in about two months when tax cuts appear in pay packets and cheques pop up in the mail.

However, the most salient numbers in Newspoll have been entirely ignored by the punditariat (including by The Australian who commissioned it). One would imagine politicians might have been paying closer attention.

Newspoll actually conducted two polls — one on voting intentions and a specific poll on the reception of the Budget. The latter has been very selectively covered — the figures about general approval for the Budget have been cited, but there has been no commentary at all on a question Newspoll asked on whether the Budget would shift votes.

According to Newspoll, 26% of those polled said they would be more likely to vote for Labor as a result of the Budget while 19% opted for the the Coalition, and 49% said neither of these. The Labor budget bounce was present across all age groups and income levels.

So voters have already made up their minds — and it could be reasonably inferred that they’ve decided that they’re not eating the political carrot. But this goes unmentioned by the pundits.

But equally puzzling are the Government’s tactics.

Even discussion by Costello and other ministers, and the terms in which they’ve talked about the (now delayed by two months) Budget bounce, suggests a demand for gratitude rather than an attempt to frame its benefits positively. They’d have done better to observe the PM’s rule about not engaging in commentary. But his denial that the Budget is an electoral smoke and mirrors trick also reinforces Labor’s narrative.

And even more oddly, Costello rested on his laurels after Budget night. Far from the traditional practice of a sustained campaign to sell the Budget, the Government immediately changed the topic — to Kevin Rudd.

Howard and Costello hardly mentioned the virtues of the Budget on Friday, spending the day assailing Rudd’s reply to the Budget and economic credentials. Monday was devoted to catch-up politics, trying to counter Labor’s education credentials. Yesterday we had ministers talking about why students weren’t paying attention in their masterclass.

These tactics reinforce the perception that the Coalition only cares about politics, and it has allowed Rudd to regain the agenda a day after its supposed trump card was played. There were always certain risks in Rudd’s attempt to act like an incumbent, but the Government seems to have fallen for the biggest political trap of all.

At the moment, it is coming across more like the Beazley opposition on speed, with a scattergun approach to policy, an overwhelmingly reactive and negative focus, and a complacency about their election prospects no matter what the voters think.

No wonder there are rumours, not so far reported in the papers, that Howard’s political touch actually departed when Arthur Sinidinos walked out the door, and that Costello has privately written off the Government’s chances.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey