Snookered – it’s the only way to describe what the ALP has done to the Coalition with the politics of the budget.
This became fairly obvious when Turnbull turned up repeatedly on budget night saying “it’s a bad budget because if you add up the cuts to the Howard programs, and subtract the increases in spending for the Labor programs, then you take into account the growth in tax receipts, then you look at etc etc” – by which time I was yawning and I’m a political junky and an economist – Joe Public has no chance regardless of how true any of it might be.
They’ll simply see a $21 billion figure that’s abstractly large enough to be impressive on the one hand, and pointy-headed market types on the TV saying how good the budget was and that inflation won’t be stoked on the other.
The target here was the mortgage belt middle income demographics, and when the headline figures are combined with the $55 billion dollar support package for “working families” (another number so arbitrarily large as to be impressive) – complete with the tables in the papers and the graphics on tonight’s news showing how much better off these folks, particularly those using childcare will be per week, well it’s a political slam dunk.
The ALP has taken a large step towards changing its perception of being a competent economic manager with the public in the only real demographic that matters on this question, and the Coalition isn’t doing themselves any favours with their response. Turnbull’s waffle and Nelson’s “we agree with means testing except for the things that have been means-tested” spiel is a rhetorical road to nowhere, whether all babies are equal or not.
The other big electoral play in the budget was Labor’s attempt to reframe the long term nature of Pork. Howard’s random, blatant and often incoherent acts of electoral bribery that were starting to get up the nose of the electorate have been replaced with the Three Little Piggies: infrastructure, health and education funds.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Come election time there will still be Pork – undoubtedly mountains of it, but it will be Pork with a nicer story, Babe rather than Razorback if you will.
With the next two and a half years filled with a narrative on the importance of the future — future productivity, the need for infrastructure, the need for better education facilities and the need for more hospitals and healthcare services — when the Pork starts getting doled out it will still be Pork, but an explainable, planned and (we can only cross our fingers here) a more productive kind of electoral Pork.
The Three Little Piggies are just about three election campaigns right there.
The electoral dangers for Labor on the other hand are still many. Being unable to crunch through infrastructure, health and education reform over a reasonable time period is probably the largest, yet that’s more a longer term drama rather than this term. But there will be people peeved at the Baby Bonus no longer being a lump sum, high income earners might give the ALP a bit of stick and the day-to-day political blow ups will always be circling.
But this budget doesn’t give the Coalition any obvious routes to make inroads into a popular new government. Promises were fulfilled, surpluses produced, tax cuts delivered and a coherent narrative produced that will allow nearly everything the government does in the near future to sound like it’s part of a plan that Australia voted for in 2007.
No wonder Rudd and Swan are smiling.