Sep 20, 2012

Opposition’s fiscal fury, distracted by Cory, will have to wait

The opposition has been trying to switch its focus to the budget, but events have conspired against it. Cory Bernardi's homophobia put the spotlight back on Tony Abbott's social views.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

What do you think of the opposition's new strategy? "What new strategy?" I hear many of you reply. That's the new strategy that if you're not here in Parliament House or watching very closely from afar, you're likely to have missed. It's about how the government has lost control of the nation's finances because of falling tax revenues and a series of spending commitments, from Gonski to new submarines. It's been building through this session of Parliament, with a series of variations in question time on Joe Hockey rising to demand Wayne Swan explain how he will fund his "$120 billion black hole", to which Swan rises to attack Hockey's "$70 billion black hole". Or, commonly, "crater". The days of Kim Beazley's "$10 billion black hole" look positively benign. Whatever the financial size of the abyss, it's also sucking in common sense. Yesterday Swan insisted the opposition could "huff and puff but they are not going to blow their crater away". Yes, the nation's Treasurer, Wayne "I so was not reading from that document" Swan actually said that. As a wag pointed out on Twitter, blowing a crater away would just leave a bigger crater. Oh wait, maybe that was Swan's point. Away from the Parliamentary battle of the black holes -- let us pray they don't combine into a vast super fiscal black hole that swallows the entire budget -- Joe Hockey outlined the issue to the Coalition joint party room on Tuesday, predicting a fall in revenue of $20-25 billion and claiming the government would try to cook the books by changing public service accounting treatments. The fiscal focus has a couple of advantages. It's less personal than the opposition's incessant attacks on the Prime Minster's honesty, which as a rich vein of voter sentiment might be looking a little played out. It's less at war with basic facts, like the predictions of a carbon price-borne apocalypse. It will also serve as a spine-stiffener for the insufficiently fiscally rigorous in the Coalition, whose numbers include, but aren't limited to, the Nationals. There are real questions about softening corporate tax revenue, although nothing a government with a steady hand and a willingness to pursue savings should be too troubled by (though the same can't be said for the state governments). Alas, despite some enthusiastic assistance from The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, the strategy has barely registered. Partly for reasons over which the opposition has no control -- the whole tone of politics has been muted with Julia Gillard's bereavement and the succession of funerals for our soldiers from Afghanistan, which the PM and Abbott have attended, keeping them out of Parliament. And then, yesterday, because of Cory Bernardi, a loathsome individual convinced of his own political genius, who has peddled some particularly offensive views on any number of issues. Now he's been banished to the backbench, most likely for a long, long spell, although he remains chair of the Standing Committee of Senator's Interests, in which position he has bottled up any action on the code of conduct for parliamentarians proposed by Rob Oakeshott. Bernardi's real sin, from Tony Abbott's perspective, was to turn attention back on exactly the issue that Abbott wants to get away from: his social views, which Labor has exploited to seeming good effect. Almost 60% of voters think Abbott is "narrow-minded", according to this week's Essential Report. That includes 32% of Liberal voters. Some 53% think he's intolerant. And there was Bernardi uttering homophobic drivel. Anything less than dismissing him was going to reinforce exactly the case that Labor has been working to make about him. So, today, we return to something more like politics as usual. Abbott did the decent thing and made sure the first question yesterday was not to the PM, who'd sat down in tears moments before. It'll be back on today. But Parliament is rising this evening for two weeks. The opposition's fiscal attack will have to wait.

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16 thoughts on “Opposition’s fiscal fury, distracted by Cory, will have to wait

  1. Jimmy

    The oppositions “fiscal attack” seems domed to fail for many reasons.

    Firstly their own numbers quite obviously don’t add up, massive spending programs and tax cuts planned along with the scrapping of both the MRRT & Carbon Tax make it impossible for them to have any credibility.

    Secondly with the Eastern states slasing and burning their way through the public service and things voters like such as TAFE, Education & Health people are a becoming a little less enthused about a surplus at all costs attitude.

    And third the drop in tax revenue is being dramatically overplayed. China are still expected to grow at 7% (which is very good especially when you factor in the increased base it is working off) and has recently announced a trillion dollar infrastructure program which should see the Iron Ore and coal price continue their rebound and volumes continue to grow. Plus their are more positive signs coming out of the US with the housing sector recovering.

    And finally after years of being told the ALP is ruining the economy in the face of continuous good economic news the voting public is starting to view the Libs as the boy who cried wolf.

  2. The Pav

    The other thing is that the opposition was happy to trumpet the S&P calculation which they now admit is wrong and their revised opinion effectively endorses the govt.

  3. klewso

    Chairing a standing committe on “Senator’s Interests”? That includes “movie genres”?

  4. klewso

    And as you note, despite the best efforts of amplification – of this off-note message – through media megaphones, especially the Limited News sousaphones, with their dominance of the orchestration pits.

  5. fredex

    Fiscal fury is phoney and funny.

  6. Jimmy

    Has anyone noticed the other new tactic they are trying, whinging about the ALP female front benchers pointing out that Abbott is an idiot. I think they are starting to panic.

  7. Holden Back

    No, no , not the wet lettuce!

  8. Steve777

    The idea of cutting ‘wasteful’ government spending appeals to many ‘right minded’ (i.e. right-wing-minded’) voters. I think that they imagine that somehow politicians and others they disapprove of (e.g. ‘bureaucrats’, the unemployed, boat people, etc.) will suffer, but nice ‘respectable’ people like themselves don’t. And while there maybe some scope to trim excess administration and possibly a few programs of marginal usefulness that could be cut back, these would not add up to much.

    So any Opposition member loudly banging on about ‘excessive’ spending, waste or alleged ‘black holes’ should be challenged as to exactly which spending is wasteful. They must nominate which spending they are going to cut and which taxes or charges they are going to increase. They should not be allowed to get away with populist answers relating to marginal programs or that they will cut ‘waste’ and ‘bureaucracy’ . Whereabouts in health, education, transport, pensions or defence are they going to cut? How many government employees do they think they should sack? What handouts will they cut out or wind back? Unless they are prepared to do so we should assume that all of these are potentially liable for cuts.

  9. klewso

    Is it true (as on Ch 7), Abbott’s been filmed at a “commemoration ceremony” to argue for compensation for Bali bombing victims – then “campaigns” about other matters including the carbon tax?
    Using one sombre occasion to push another barrow or two?
    And those that point out his political opportunism on this occasion are “at fault”?
    All in the Bernardi backwash?

  10. Jimmy

    Klewso – You forgot that it was “to argue for compensation for Bali bombing victims” that the PM had already agreed to work with him on.

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