Opposition leader Tony Abbott summoned the ghost of Liberal great Robert Menzies in his budget reply speech last night, as he pitched to the “forgotten families” of Australia struggling with day-to-day living costs.

Abbott drew on his own family experience to say that he sympathised with voters who were struggling to pay mortgages and increasing electricity bills. “I do not think you are rich. I know you are struggling under a rising cost of living,” said Abbott (read his full speech over at Crikey political blog The Stump).

There were no official costings released, but Abbott announced one new initiative,  to cut red tape for business, supposedly worth $1 billion for small business. Asylum seekers were also discussed, with Abbott calling for mandatory sentencing for people smugglers.

Here’s a look at how the commentariat called it:

Abbott used his budget reply to take a more positive stance on politics. It needs to continue, writes Katharine Murphy at The Age:

“Just as the government needs to rise above its self-defeating tendencies, Abbott needs to move to the next level, to inspire as well as critique, and to convince the voters he is not a seat warmer for Malcolm Turnbull or a more progressive alternative leader, but a genuine prime ministerial contender.”

Labor needs to stop playing the man, says Dennis Shanahan in The Australian:

“The Gillard government is being too tentative in selling its own budget and is relying too heavily on an Abbott failure.”

Dennis Atkins at The Courier-Mail said Abbott may have had the easier job this week, but he gave a direct hit to the government on cost-of-giving issues:

“He [Abbott] didn’t so much press all the hot buttons for voters cost of living, antipathy to tax, debt and deficit and government waste as whack them with a baseball bat.”

Phillip Coorey at the Sydney Morning Herald explains why Abbott didn’t realise a swag of new initatives.

“A source said this was a deliberate strategy to keep attention on the government and its problems of the carbon tax and boat people, rather than allow the Coalition to become the focus.”

Abbott called for an early election through his budget reply and this was his campaign speech, writes Dennis Shanahan at The Oz.

“There was no new economic vision, no new sophistication in his argument or any movement away from his retail campaign against the carbon tax and illegal boat arrivals.

Abbott decided to remain on his own message and trundle his winning issues over the top of a tentative Labor budget while speaking to his core constituency with his core philosophy.”

Peter Hartcher at the Sydney Morning Herald agreed that the speech was more election than budget in its rhetoric.

“Tony Abbott last night seemed to have picked up the wrong text on his way out of his office to give his budget-in-reply speech. Instead of giving a budget speech, he gave an election speech.”

Peter Fray

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