Josh Frydenberg and Bill Shorten had their budgetary pissing contest. My surpluses will be bigger than yours, my tax cuts for battlers will be bigger than yours, my spending on health, education and welfare will be bigger than yours, declared Shorten in Thursday’s budget reply.
Frydenberg delivered a sound budget for PM Scott Morrison but, like all Treasurers facing a difficult election, he sought to be all things to all men. He achieved moderate surpluses for the next and following financial years – but could not announce the budget was in surplus right now. He felt compelled to add the sweeteners politicians of both sides believe are vote changers: impressive dollops of infrastructure spending and targeted inducements for segments of the community (ie voters in marginal government seats). And as Peter Costello unhelpfully pointed out, the government’s tax cuts that won’t take effect until the election after this.
The political problem is that while Frydenberg’s is a sound plan, it is not the stuff of political orgasm. It’s a Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow budget, asking the Shirelles’ timeless question: Is this a lasting treasure, or just a moment of pleasure?
Which left the stage for Shorten and his rabbit out of the hat cancer action plan. Never mind Shorten’s headline-grabber has more holes than a Swiss cheese left out in the sun. Never mind its costings are dodgy, and way too low. Never mind it lines the pockets of avaricious corporate diagnostic imaging entrepreneurs and private equity investors, and rewards gouging specialists. Never mind it gives Medicare access to all MRI machines, meaning a Scan Scam Mark II is very possible. Never mind most people who have their cancers treated in the public sector have their treatment and drug costs almost entirely paid for by taxpayers. And never mind that all the other rent-seeking diseases in the healthcare sector will, if Labor wins, clamour for equal treatment and your money.
All that mattered to Shorten and Labor is it pulls the heartstrings, caught the government unawares, dominated talkback radio, ensures great pictures of Shorten visiting cancer wards, and that to even vaguely criticise it is worse than killing Bambi.
By throwing that political grenade, Shorten suffocated the first and possibly last budget of the Morrison government. As MPs left Canberra with this parliament now done, Shorten’s message of “hype (or was it hope?) over fear” was the key takeaway. His cancer gimmick snatched Budget week from the Coalition in terms of atmospherics and momentum.
And yet…and yet…
Monday’s Newspoll has the Coalition improving its two-party preferred vote by two percentage points to trail Labor by just 52-48, snatching a narrow primary vote lead as well. John Howard would take 52-48 into a campaign and still win in a canter.
Can Morrison? Dare we hope?
Last week was a must-win for the Coalition, but despite Frydenberg’s best efforts (and Newspoll) they couldn’t.
The proof is Morrison not having tea and scones with Sir Peter Cosgrove at Government House on Sunday. It seems the government needs at least a week more getting its house in order, making appointments, finalising paperwork, and (ahem) making sure that taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns keep running a little longer.
Shorten predictably overacted his high dudgeon, and even more predictably claimed the government is running scared of facing the people. In doing so he sounded like a petulant child who had to wait for the toy he desperately wanted.
In brushing off indignant media on Sunday, Morrison gave the impression that he is playing with Shorten’s mind – perhaps he is. The truth is, however, that the Coalition was spooked by Labor’s good week, and the positive reaction to Shorten’s cancer plan. The public just wants this election over and done, the party campaign machines are ready to go, and bar Senate estimates – which will now go ahead – the parliament is finished.
This campaign non-week is wrong. Perception is all, and Morison’s dallying is not a good look.
Highlight of the week
To deflect media attention from the budget before it was delivered, Shorten announced his ridiculous pledge to have half of Australia’s road vehicles electric by 2030, notwithstanding the cost of these virtue-signallers and the almost total lack of charging infrastructure.
Bruvver Bill went on FM radio to spruik his scathingly brilliant idea, but ran into those most feared of political interrogators, Kyle Sandilands and Jacki O.
The grab of Shorten claiming it takes “eight to ten minutes” to charge and electric car is audio gold.
Try at least eight to ten hours, Billy boy.
Over the weekend and on Monday, Morrison pounced on Shorten, accusing the Labor leader of not knowing his own policy, and making it up as he goes along. Not what’s expected of someone presuming he’s PM in waiting, says ScoMo.
That line really resonates. But if the Coalition truly has the smarts, they would package an advert replaying – with a suitably foreboding voiceover – Shorten’s equivalent of John Hewson’s birthday moment. They would accuse him of taking away Australians’ right to drive the cars and other vehicles of their choice. Are there charging points in the middle of the bush for my four-wheel drive, Mr Shorten? Will your electric car have the power to tow my caravan, Mr Shorten? You get the drift.
When asking “are you Holden or Ford?” generates as much heat as Brexit and Remain in Britain, with car ownership and the freedom of the open road so deeply embedded in the Australian psyche, BS’s BS on the talking-type wireless can yet cost the aspiring next PM dearly.
The attack on his bluster is there to be driven home. Labor’s crashing in NSW shows that campaigns still matter if you’re close enough behind. Newspoll indicates Morrison is close enough.
Can Morrison? Dare we hope?
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