May 12, 2004 | Jeff Wall

The Budget Speech……………..or was it the Opposition’s reply?

Last night I decided to watch the Treasurer’s budget speech, rather than go to the Treasury website and download the documents I was interested in.
After a 30 minute rushed speech by Peter Costello, I was not much the wiser. Instead of being the “Report to the Nation on the Government’s Stewardship of the Economy” that it used to be, the budget speech read more like the Opposition Leader’s reply!
There were so many “give aways”, and no mention of any increases in any taxes and charges, that at one stage I thought the election had been called yesterday afternoon, and the Opposition Leader was outlining the raft of promises all oppositions make.
When Paul Keating decided to tailor his budget speech for television, he did a disservice to democracy. Peter Costello has maintained that disservice.
Had Les Bury or Frank Crean been delivering the budget speech last night, they would have struggled to get beyond the introduction before time was up.
I hold the old fashioned view that the budget speech should be much more than about the handouts. It should detail the economic and fiscal performance of the nation and the government – and the outlook for the year ahead.
It should also treat the people with a measure of intelligence and tell them how the surplus was arrived at, and how the record spending in the year ahead will be funded. One needs to plough through the Treasury website, or the budget documents, to find these details.
It might be argued that citizens watching the speech were only interested in what was in it for them. I doubt it. I am sure the majority of families that will benefit were watching “The Block”, or “Hot Auctions, or even repeats of “Everybody Loves Raymond”.
The young singles, who missed out completely were probably listening to 4MMM, and remain none the wiser that they are no better off.
Having said that, one needs to ask just how much of a difference to the political “climate” the budget will make?
Time will tell, but I would not bet on the budget giving the government the sustainable “lift” in the polls they expect (and needs). And I am a betting man!
The reason why is quite simple. The electorate remains as volatile as ever, and as suspicious of governments, and oppositions (in other words, politicians) as ever.
It is especially suspicious of pre-election tax cuts…………….and today’s politicians have Malcolm Fraser’s infamous “fist full of dollars” and Paul Keating’s no less infamous “l.a.w. tax cuts” for that.
With interest rates low, inflation low, unemployment low, and the economy growing strongly, the government should have a clear, if not unassailable, lead in the polls. The fact that, on the basis of all published polls, it continues to trail Labor only confirms just how close the coming election will be……..and how hard it will be for the government to win a fourth term.
The worry I have about the budget, and about the opposition’s likely alternative, is that Australia is slipping more and more into the “handout mentality” era. Instead of asking, “What’s in it for the country?” we ask “What’s in it for me?”
I can recall when the press gallery was really only interested in how much smokes, beer and petrol were going up in the budget, or whether pensioners were getting a $1 or $2 increase…………….and that one reliable leak was a triumph for the journalist who got it.
How times have changed. The Treasurer could have tabled a bunch of recent clippings from the daily press, moved that they be printed, and the budget would just about have been delivered.
Call me cynical if you like – but that’s exactly what the electorate is likely to be today, and after Mark Latham replies tomorrow.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 10:25 am | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Spot on, although I for one was watching Peter’s show last night. With one little one, and another on the way, I’m one of the big benficiaries of the hand-outs. Of cause this budget is inequitable, with most of the benefits going to those who need it least. Just another idea John has copied from George. But with three mortgages, I’ll cop the “handout mentality” tag sweet.
    But the really good thing about this budget is that (some of us) get a pile of money, but then we can vote them out. Thanks. Seeya.

    Comment by Mark — May 12, 2004 @ 12:31 pm

  2. Your last comment is exactly what occurred to me. The really big bribes don’t really lock people in. They can get their two lots of $600 per kid (as long as the election doesn’t happen for a while yet) but still take their chances that Labor would come out with a restructring of the system which won’t leave them worse off in the long run.
    Perhaps the government has definitely decided to have the election in between the two bribes and Latham may be very wise in staying in Australia.

    Comment by Alex McConnell — May 12, 2004 @ 9:37 pm

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