You’ll notice we didn’t commission a piece on Tony Abbott’s foreign languages policy floated in his budget reply last night. The single piece of new, detailed policy the opposition leader floated, that is.

Some sections of the media fell upon this one morsel to cover the issue in depth. Not that we don’t think the pretty poor ratio of students currently studying foreign languages should be rectified, but there’s a time and a place. Last night was not it.

A completely random thought bubble does not come near an adequate budget reply, not if we are to believe the rest of the assertions couched within that speech: that this is a country in crisis, chaos in fact, led by an “unworthy” prime minister.

Abbott’s solution? We’re still trying to work that out. Because for Tony, it seems the federal budget reads like a foreign language.

Economist Stephen Koukoulas ran some of Abbott’s speech through his fact checker, and spat out observations like this:

ABBOTT: 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.

FACT:  Average annual earnings are around $53,500 in NSW and $51,500 in Victoria. Maybe they are “not rich”, but someone on $83,000 is earning around 60% above the average wage whether they have a mortgage or not.

We strongly suggest you read the full list. Millions won’t. Then there was Abbott’s assertion that “the Coalition identified $50 billion in savings before the last election and will do at least as much again before the next one”. As Bernard Keane points out today: “The Coalition’s $50 billion claim ($47.6 billion, but never mind) was a fiction, riddled with double-counting and asset sales, one of the reasons they were tripped up by Treasury and Finance during negotiations with independents in 2010.”

Of course, the opposition leader doesn’t need detail. The government’s self-inflicted stuff-ups have given Abbott a free pass.

But that doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t call him out on it, and the public shouldn’t ask more of him. If that speech amounts to a pitch for the top job, surely we should expect more than that?

Abbott needs to try harder. But so do we. Start paying attention, people.

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(Departing) Ed’s note — Sophie Black writes: Well that’s it, I’m off for a while, maternity leave land beckons. Working with the extensive Crikey bank of brains, and the smaller but perfectly formed in-house team, has been a daily privilege, and one that I will miss terribly. And that’s before I get to you, dear readers, the smartest media carnivores in the country. I asked for crowd sourcing help on the editorial and you came up with gems like “something something Kroger” and advice on prams. Your good humour and inside knowledge does maketh the masthead so thank you for your never-ending ideas, tips and advice. There are some big changes in store for Crikey in the coming months, so make sure you lay the feedback on thick for incoming editor Jason Whittaker, who is set to do a stellar job (and he’s a great listener). See you on the other side (and on the twits in the meantime) …

Peter Fray

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