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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Budget 2015 splashes around essence of monkey brains

After he'd finished giving his Budget speech the Treasurer's glad-handing with his fellow frontbenchers seemed to be a gesture with little to no substance because the people it appears from the content of his speech he has kept most firmly in mind recently were seated further back in the House.

Back in early-to-mid February the Coalition's backbenchers were flexing their new-found muscles while the Opposition and the Senate crossbenchers chuckled discreetly behind their palms at the Party's disaffection because the government's inability to push through Parliament most of its 2014 Budget - among other things - was starting to make its leadership look distinctly zombie-like. A corpse can't lead a federal party room, and Abbott was ever-so green-about-the-gills. In this photo therefore Joe Hockey seems to me to be be celebrating the fact that the government frontbench might now appear - at first blush - to have bought itself another six months of reasonably vigorous life.

The dire warnings about deficits have completely disappeared to be substituted with something softer and warmer. The Budget doles out wealth in fat bucketfuls to small businesses, and this seems to me to make it possible to compare it to Kevin Rudd's school construction program. That exercise was roundly criticised by parts of Australia's media so it'll be interesting to see what that particular sector makes of Hockey's largesse in favour of what might appear to be a newly-targeted support base. You can bet that the Party has crunched those numbers and decided that the profile fits.

Giving tens of thousands of dollars to independent traders and cafe proprietors is as good a way as any of securing the good opinion of a large part of the electorate, at least. If the Murdoch press doesn't gut you in the morning. Recent opinion polls have showed the electorate giving the Coalition frontbench the benefit of the doubt but this Budget is a distinct watershed and I suspect that if the gist of it had mainly ignored the Opposition's priorities the electorate would have turned on the Coalition leadership again as it did late last year and earlier this year in the lead-up to the February crisis.

It'll be interesting to see what the stock market makes of last night's Budget, furthermore.

All the severity and cold steel of Budget 2014 has been left - with a sense of relief, one suspects - by the wayside. Instead, Hockey seems to be taking his lead from the Reserve Bank and adding a good dose of stimulus into the forward estimates. Money for nannies, money for childcare, money for independent traders and small businesses.

But less money for better-off pensioners; loyalty counts for little when your representatives are keen to buy votes elsewhere. And people with children on average incomes form the majority of the current crop of franchisees, as usual. You don't need the good opinion of pensioners because they'll vote for you anyway, but you do need to garner the support of the swinging voter. That fiscal injection might just serve to keep the frontbench unchanged for the forseeable future. Abbott is looking a lot healthier. He might be able to ditch the daily infusion of essence of monkey brains.

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