Reboots are sometimes necessary, and sometimes they work. But it's difficult to see just how the Abbott government's "budget reboot", launched over the weekend, will be a resounding success. The opening act was Treasurer Joe Hockey's weird apology last Friday, during which he first apologised for others' reactions to his comments about poor people not driving, and then apologised for "the words coming out the way they did". But nobody had demanded an apology. If anything, critics wanted Hockey to acknowledge that his budget would, if passed, have a disproportionately detrimental effect on lower-income people already struggling with high fixed costs of living, and then to change his tune.
Instead, the Coalition's stars were wheeled out to perform a medley of its greatest hits, beginning with the assertion that the budget is necessary to fix Labor's "debt and deficit disaster". Andrew Robb even brought back the "sovereign risk" scare, first introduced by a disingenuous mining industry to warn that the Rudd government's mining super profits tax presented industry risk similar to that in countries marked by civil war and dictatorial coups. And this morning, Mathias Cormann confirmed that "an adjustment here and an adjustment there" – Abbott's new line, intended to raise expectations of further compromise – will not mean any significant change to a budget for which "there is no alternative".
There are alternatives, of course, especially if Hockey wants to usher in, as he says, "a more caring nation, a nation that has the capacity to help those most disadvantaged". But the Labor opposition won't commit to clawing back, for instance, some of the generous measures (negative gearing, tax concessions for corporations, trusts and superannuants) available to the wealthiest Australians, or some of the over-investment in certain infrastructure projects, so the national conversation hasn't gone there yet. Meanwhile, many in the Coalition remain worried that Hockey's claimed "charm offensive" – now more than a week old – is simply making a bad situation worse.
Russell Marks Politicoz Editor
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