Last night Tony Abbott delivered his budget reply speech, arguing that a Coalition government would focus on business and find an additional $50 billion in savings. But just how his government would find these promised savings wasn’t specified.

Abbott declared that a Coalition government would increase foreign language teaching in schools, with a target of 40% of year 12 students speaking a second language in a decade. He criticised the government’s own financial plan, saying “the fundamental problem with this budget is that it deliberately, coldly, calculatedly plays the class-war card…It cancels previous commitments to company tax cuts and replaces them with means-tested payments because a drowning government has decided to portray the political contest in this country as billionaires versus battlers. It’s an ignoble piece of work from an unworthy Prime Minister that will offend the intelligence of the Australian people,” said Abbott.

A Coalition government would abolish both the carbon tax and mining tax, said Abbott, noting that the carbon tax is hurting cost-of-living prices for voters and that the mining tax punishes business and decreases investment.

In an email sent to Liberal supporters last night, Abbott outlined his budget reply themes:

Tonight I highlighted the fundamental truths of what will drive a Coalition Government:

  • Government should be at least as interested in the creation of wealth as in its redistribution.
  • Government should protect the vulnerable not to create more clients of the state but to foster more self-reliant citizens.
  • The small business people who put their houses on the line to create jobs deserve support from government, not broken promises.
  • People who work hard and put money aside so they won’t be a burden on others should be encouraged, not hit with higher taxes.
  • And people earning $83,000 a year and families on $150,000 a year are not rich, especially if they’re paying mortgages in our big cities.

This was about values, says Dennis Shanahan at The Australian

“Tony Abbott has turned his back on Labor’s demands that he deliver a detailed economic plan in his budget-in-reply speech, turning instead to political rhetoric on integrity, trust and the need for change.

Thumbing his nose at demands he detail savings to finance his plans, the Opposition Leader drew together a string of “fundamental truths” and values as well as standard promises to repeal the carbon and mining taxes, cut the public service and save on the National Broadband Network.”

But these plans need money.

“Mr Abbott did not cost the policy, which would require recruiting and training teachers. Nor did he announce any new savings measures to fund his promises thus far,” reports Phillip Coorey in The Sydney Morning Herald. “But he did promise to identify at least $50 billion more in savings before the next election.”

He’s going to have to start costing Coalition policies, notes Michelle Grattan in The Age:

“Last night he made himself the smallest target possible. But as he gets closer to the election and to government, Abbott is going to have a blow torch applied on policy and costings. Even with polls suggesting he is heading to an easy victory, he won’t be able to dodge that scrutiny.”

Abbott never tries to cost his budget plans, says Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review:

“Much of the political strategy underlying Labor’s 2012 budget aimed to finally put some heat on Tony Abbott to explain his own policies and spending plans.

If last night’s address in reply was the only guide to whether this strategy was a success, you’d have to count it an abysmal failure.

Abbott has made something of an art form of the address in reply to the budget. Last night, in his third attempt as Opposition Leader, he was even less bogged down by details about his own policies than he was in 2010 or 2011.”

Stay tuned for Bernard Keane’s take on Abbott’s budget reply speech in today’s edition of Crikey.

Peter Fray

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