I suspect that well before Joe Hockey brought down his government’s first budget there was an air of resignation among certain Coalition MP’s that their seat in Parliament was at serious risk; albeit just eight months after winning office. If those in the most marginal electorates had their concerns before this, the budget has cemented those concerns for at least a dozen or so. I cannot recall a government losing favour with the people so soon. But when one analyses the budget and juxtapositions its content with conservative ideology, it isn’t hard to see how that ideology dominates the overall detail.
What struck me about Joe Hockey’s budget speech was the absence of the human element. He didn’t seem to understand that he was speaking to millions of people who would suffer as a consequence of his decisions. He didn’t seem to be aware that this same audience were also the people who pay him to look after their interests and their security. He appeared more like the school principal admonishing badly behaved students. He reminded me of both Brother Arnold at boarding school, and Sergeant Morris at Puckapunyal Army Camp, both of whom were just as cold-hearted and uncompromising as they went about their business of moulding our hearts and minds; trying to fashion us to think and act the way they wanted us to think and act; a tactic devoid of any consideration for our individuality or our personal circumstances.
There was no evidence from either Hockey or the front bench ministers behind him, of any compassion, of any consideration for the pain they were about to deliver. It was all about money, the future and about sustainability. There was no acknowledgement that a ruthless and unequal burden was being inflicted upon the most vulnerable. It was clinical, it was vengeful. It was cold and indifferent. It came across as if it was designed to be a just punishment for those who voted Labor at the last two elections. But it was the cynical grins on the faces of those pompous puppets sitting behind Hockey that, I suspect, resonated most with viewers; Bishop, Joyce, Pyne and Abbott all of whom seem to demonstrate extreme satisfaction as their brutal ideological dogma was being announced.
By way of comparison Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech was all about people. It was in stark contrast to the coldness and the indifference to personal suffering that we heard from Hockey. Bill Shorten dismissed Hockey’s self-centred hard line and heartless business approach. He restored the human element in reply to Hockey’s budget of extreme policies that shocked most of us despite the fact that most of them had already been leaked. He spoke about people, families, children, their hopes, their aspirations, their education, their health. He spoke of the extreme impact on the aged, the sick and the intellectually disadvantaged all of whom were the hardest hit. He sensed that Hockey’s cold-hearted approach had won few favours and he finally unleashed an unprecedented critical onslaught. It was his most convincing performance since becoming leader and, some would say, not before time.
It remains to be seen if the government’s blatant abuse of its election promises will impact against it in the same way Julia Gillard’s perceived broken promise did with a carbon tax. It will largely depend on the Senate. The so-called ‘horse trading’ Abbott has hinted at, will determine what items get passed and what don’t. The government’s bigger problem, however, is the perception of fairness, or lack of it, particularly with the Medicare co-payment. Pitching it as the source of a $20 billion medical research fund that might one day result in discovering a cure for cancer, is unconvincing. It isn’t even being used to pay down debt. Hockey’s attempt to compare it with a couple of beers and a packet of cigarettes was pathetic. He should have thought that through before opening his mouth. The deficit levy is nothing more than a gentle side bump. A person on $200,000 a year will pay an extra $400 a year or $8 a week in tax. Using Hockey’s analogy it is 2.5 lattes. But the smart ones will find ways to avoid paying it anyway. Freezing parliamentary salaries for 12 months is laughable. They are already entitled to perks most of us can only dream of, let alone enjoy. So the bulk of the heavy lifting, the burden and the pain will rest on the shoulders of those least able to avoid it while those who are part of the wealth creation industry, get off unscathed. This is nothing more than a clandestine attempt to uphold the discredited ‘trickle-down’ economic theory of the Reagan era. History shows us it will fail.
And so for the dozen or more Coalition members who will be removed from parliament in 2016, they have nothing to lose in breaking ranks and voicing their concerns. Who knows, they might even be persuaded to defect to Clive Palmer’s side of the chamber. He might well be working on them already. What a deliciously wicked prospect.
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