It is a minority opinion, but to me there seems to be a remarkable lack of passion and enthusiasm in the opposition to the budget. What with the build-up and the alleged horrors inflicted on the public, you would expect some more strident and genuine outrage. True, the official opposition and the lobby groups have recited the usual objections to some of the measures and have done their best to stir up a bit of feeling. So we have been told that our education system has been turned into a wasteland, our noble youth thrown onto a scrapheap of broken dreams, our old people condemned to go on starvation rations and our hospitals thrown back to pre-Florence Nightingale times and all the rest of it. That being so you would expect some very serious opposition. It is also true that the opinion polls have given the government a shake, but it would be amazing if there were not something of a reaction of that sort, no matter what the budget did.
And yet, somehow, the protests lack passion and feeling. The vibes of fury and outrage are just not there. Ten thousand people at a rally in Melbourne to protest against the end of the world that the budget allegedly heralds is not much of a showing. A few students did the right thing and had a half-hearted demo against Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella in a brief interlude of study before going on to be high-priced lawyers, doctors and derivative brokers. But even they let the side down: your modern students can’t even get the banner the right way up and they show a distinct lack of revolutionary fervour. And there is something ritualistic rather than spontaneously outraged about their demonstrations.
I suspect that most people opposed to the budget think it contains worse medicine than it does and that they will be affected by it when in fact they will not. I suspect also that many people actually support the budget and know the patient needs the medicine, unpalatable and all that it is. That view was supported by the Fairfax poll — of all things — that showed 49 per cent of respondents thought that the budget was ‘economically responsible’, with 48 per cent opposed. But to make doubly sure, I decided to conduct a highly scientific opinion poll using a new and secret method of polling, namely asking people at random what they thought of the budget.
Some of the responses I received: ‘Have we had the budget?’, ‘I have been under a rock’, ‘They had to do it, but not all at once’, ‘I don’t agree with giving all this money to rich people to have babies’, ‘They should not have put the GST on food and restaurants’, ‘It gives too much middle-class welfare’, ‘They need a good PR company to sell it’ and ‘They have not proved a budget emergency’. So, you see: a bit of a mixed bag, but hardly outrage.
I still believe that people in general will come to realise two things, although they probably realise them already: we simply must stop spending money and we must try to balance the books. Abbott and Hockey are now wedded to that cause and will eventually get the credit for it. It will probably be the making of them.
For the time being, the plan should be to stand firm, not compromise, defend the case, not be spooked by polls or nervous backbenchers and not be diverted into side issues that will generate more criticism. Chief among the latter is the absurd idea of expanding and increasing the GST so the states can waste more money. In raw political terms, there is an air of unreality about the notion that a government should lash itself with the pain of more taxation and then just give the money away. And you can see how impractical the proposal is by the people who are arguing for it; they are either failed state premiers, social reformers who live on government ‘funding’, proponents of new and bigger taxes, people who work in think tanks that want bigger government resources and power to strangle the free enterprise spirit, people who do not have to fill in the nightmarish BAS form because they do not produce anything and those who do not have to stand for election. You think the present protests are serious? Increase the GST and you will see what serious is.
The power of the left-wing machine that the ABC and the Fairfax, Guardian sisterhood has become, was on show during the budget analysis; the Australian and the most important newspaper in Australia, the Herald-Sun, have gone over to paid, online subscriptions, cutting them off from the mass of the people. In Melbourne, we were left with the Age and the ABC — who else? — for our news and commentary. What a diet.
Kevin Rudd’s appearance before the pink batts Royal Commission was, even for him, a monumental piece of chutzpah, arrogance and narcissism. Was the catastrophe that led to the electrocution of three young men his fault? No; the public servants were to blame for ignoring his commandments and not warning him of the dangers of nailing foil batts onto electric wires. Is he sorry? Yes, sort of; the grieving parents of the dead apprentices should feel ‘confused, angry and let down…’ Is that all? He should be sued for gross dereliction of duty.
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