There can be little doubt that last night’s budget sets the stage for an election before the end of the year.
The battlelines are now emerging.
As noted before, the earliest date for a half-Senate, full House of Representatives election is August 7. That date looks a little early, particularly given that the Prime Minister has declared himself a full termer, but a November/first weekend December poll look both feasible — and plausible.
It’s not too early and if the Budget goes down well, unemployment is ticking up and people are feeling confident, the electorate should respond to “Let’s see this through”/“Who do you trust to see this through” messaging from the Coalition. At least that’s what Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg — let alone Liberal Party federal director Andrew Hirst — hope.
For this strategy is largely dependent on continued incompetence from Anthony Albanese and the Labor frontbench, an inability to cut through.
As Paul Kelly observes in The Australian today, this budget “destroys the Howard/Costello ethos by inaugurating prolonged spending that far exceeds Labor’s effort a decade earlier”.
Fiscal rectitude has been a hallmark of Australian politics for some 35 years now — since the days of Paul Keating’s “banana republic” warnings — even though it has been more rhetoric than reality since the GFC. No more.
The budget papers make the situation clear. This financial year, the deficit will amount to 7.8 per cent of the economy. In 2021-22, it will be five per cent and 4.6 per cent in 2022-23 — providing everything goes well. Even if it does, the budget will still be in deficit in 2032.
The budget is, in effect, a license to spend — and left commentators such as the Nine Newspapers Ross Gittins say it doesn’t spend enough.
Last night, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg threw fiscal rectitude — their key differentiating point from Labor — out the window.
If the Budget is seen as cynical or the massed chorus of Labor, the media, academia and all the broader forces of the left convince voters it doesn’t do enough, that will leave the Coalition with only cultural values to fight with.
And, as all SpecOz readers know, Scott Morrison isn’t very comfortable using those.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.