Beer, cigarettes and cruises – the government’s attack strategy

May 15, 2014

It didn’t take long for the implications of the Coalition government’s first Budget to sink in. Within moments of Treasurer Joe Hockey resuming his seat, representatives of every sector from community welfare to big business filed out to front the media. What they had to say came as no surprise to anyone – business liked the Budget. Almost no one else did.

Arguably, it’s the flagged changes to Medicare that caused the most outrage – the $7 ‘co-payment’ for GP, pathology and some Emergency Department visits, and the $5 increase to medicines. Deservedly so, too. The government would have us believe it’s about spreading the ‘heavy lifting’ in order to resolve the ‘Budget emergency’ and move us quickly back to surplus. The logic is inconsistent, though. If the GP charge is all about helping out the fiscal bottom line, why earmark $5 out of every $7 to go into a medical research fund? For that matter, why not just continue to fund the CSIRO?

The numbers are one thing. Consider this, though – the government is effectively asking every single Australian to make a decision about their own health, no matter how unqualified they are. Does your kid have abdominal pains that cause him to scream? Flip a coin – heads it’s wind, tails it’s appendicitis. How about this – it’s flu season. Pay for the FluVax now, or take the risk that you won’t need to see the doctor later for an antibiotic prescription?

Ludicrous? Yes. Dangerous? Absolutely.

Oh, but no one would be so silly, would they? Mr Hockey certainly doesn’t think so. He’s got it all worked out. You see, it’s about whether we’re selfish or sensible. Why, that $7 isn’t so much to ask. It’s the equivalent of giving up a couple of beers or a third of a pack of cigarettes. Really, who wouldn’t make that sacrifice for their own health, or that of their family?

See what he’s doing there? It’s a rather nasty piece of character assassination. In so many words, Hockey laid down a series of assumptions – that people on low incomes are not concerned for their health, that they’d rather spend their money on beer and cigarettes than on their families, and that they need to take a good hard look at themselves. He didn’t quite come out and call them ‘bogans’, but the inference was practically screaming to be made. And we all know that bogans are lazy, selfish dole bludgers, right?

On Tuesday night, Hockey gushed about how wonderful it would be for people to know that their contribution to the Medical Research Future Fund might one day save their children’s lives. Today, he’s playing hardball, running back to the tried-and-true formula of ‘blame the victim’. He wants to be able to argue that if people suffer as a result of Medicare changes, it’ll be their own fault.

Then there’s what on the agenda for the aged pension – including the family home in the assets test, indexation against inflation, and a rise in the qualifying age to 70. Seniors groups are up in arms. Every one of these changes is potentially destructive. The family home has historically been exempt from the assets test, and for good reason. It’s often not until near retirement that a housing loan is paid off, and in the current housing market, the value of any given house is likely to be considerably inflated from its original asking price. A house bought for under $100,000 thirty years ago could now – conservatively speaking – be worth more than $500,000. If that value is included in a person’s assets, it would render them ineligible for the pension. Their only option would be to sell that home, downsize, and invest the remainder. Even for those of us who are younger, that’s a hugely stressful undertaking, with no guarantee of a good outcome.

Raising the retirement age also places a burden on older people. The idea is predicated on the fact that we live longer. What it doesn’t take into account, though, is that we are not living better. Medical science has become very, very good at saving lives, but it’s still playing catch-up on how to improve the quality of life for people over 60. It shows in the strain on our aged care system, where there is a dearth of available medium-care facilities – and what there is often exists in an uncomfortable middle ground between low-care ‘retirement villages’ and high-care beds.

Again, though, the government’s got an answer to objections. According to Deputy PM Warren Truss, senior just want to have their cake and eat it, too. The argument goes like this: people retire, they cash in their superannuation, go on cruises and spending sprees, and when the money’s gone, cry poor and hold out their hands for welfare. They’re just sponges. They should ‘learn to live within their means’.

Well, of course. Heaven forbid that people who have worked all their lives and put as much money into their superannuation as they can afford be allowed to actually enjoy their retirement. And let’s not mention how they often use substantial amounts of superannuation to pay off debt.

What Mr. Truss deliberately didn’t say is that money put into superannuation is taxed going in and coming out, not to mention income tax over the years. People have already contributed three times over to their own retirements. There’s also the fact that many simply don’t have enough superannuation to see them through, whether as a result of being in low-paying jobs, or simply because Australia didn’t even have a compulsory superannuation scheme before 1992.

It’s niggling little details like this that the government wants kept out of public discussion. Every pensioner and every low-income earner with children who get their faces on The Project, A Current Affair or any of the morning shows, everyone who wants to know why they are being targeted for such draconian measures, is another slip in the polls. (Despite what any government MP says, they do watch those figures.)

This tactic – blaming those who will be worst affected – is nothing short of bluster and bullying. It’s Hockey and Truss working as a tag team to kick people when they’re down. And it’s a huge mistake. Had the government stuck to its original strategy of attempting to accentuate the potential for positive outcomes, it would still have been an unpopular Budget, but that’s all – and unpopular things go away in politics.

That opportunity’s been lost, however. The Budget is irrevocably cast as not merely strict, but outright vindictive. The government has a huge problem on its hands, now. Opposition parties have flagged their intention to block key legislation (notably, Medicare changes), and the Coalition may well find itself facing Hobson’s choice – to ride it out, and risk paralysing the government, or pull the trigger on a Double Dissolution, and risk losing government altogether.

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Budget 2014 – heaviest lifting from the weakest Australians

May 13, 2014

Treasurer Joe Hockey has just handed down his first Budget, and it’s a shocker. Here are the highlights – or rather, the low-lights.


Commission of Audit hits those who are most vulnerable

May 1, 2014

The government’s Commission of Audit report was finally released today. It’s over 500 pages long, but already it’s proving to be targeted at those who can least afford it.

These are just some of the recommendations:

PENSIONS

Aged pension eligibility to be raised to 70 years old.

Pension eligibility criteria to be tightened.

The family home to be counted as an asset in means testing.

Pension payments to be gradually reduced to 28% of average weekly earnings.

Carer’s Allowance to be means tested.

HEALTH

NDIS rollout to be ‘slowed’.

GP visits to cost $15 in ‘co-payment’.

Those who turn up at an Emergency Department whose situations are deemed ‘less urgent’ to be forced to make a co-payment.

Everyone to pay more for medicines, including those currently listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This includes medicines that are currently free.

In a rare recommendation not aimed at the poorest and most in need in Australian society, high income earners would be required to take out private health insurance in order to access Medicare. The Commission also recommended a 2% increase in the Medicare Levy surcharge to encourage the shift to private health insurance.

NEWSTART

Payments to young job seekers to be cut after 12 months.

Job-seekers between 22 and 30 be forced to relocate to take a job after 12 months, or lose benefits.

EDUCATION

Gonski reformed to be scrapped.

States to have full control of schools.

Higher education to cost more.

Students to start paying back their FEE-HELP debt earlier.

FAMILIES

The Commission recommended the Paid Parental Leave Scheme salary cap be scaled back to $57,000 per year.

Family Tax Benefit B to be abolished.

A new FTB A ‘supplement’ to be available to sole parents with children under 8 years of age.

INFRASTRUCTURE, INDUSTRY AND PUBLIC SERVICES

More road tolls.

Industry assistance, including to the car industry, to be slashed.

Seven Commonwealth bodies to be scrapped, including the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Over 60 other departments to be merged; for example, Border Protection with Customs.

The Snowy-Hydro scheme, the Australian Submarine Corporation, Defence Housing, Australian Rail Track Corporation, Australia Post, Medibank, the Royal Mint and the National Broadband Network to be sold off over time.

The Commission estimates this will mean that 15,000 fewer public servants will be needed, especially in Canberra.

New targets for funding the ABC and SBS, while the Australian Broadcasting Network would be abolished.

The minimum wage case to be abolished, with a new benchmark of 44% of average weekly earnings.

It takes no special knowledge whatsoever to see that this report is a nightmare. It targets the weakest, poorest, least able to adapt to extreme changes in their fiscal circumstances. Now, Treasurer Joe Hockey has been at pains to stress that this is a report, not the Budget, but he’s not ruling anything out, either. Some of these recommendations have already been signalled as ‘under consideration’.

Take an ‘average’ family – one parent works, making about the average weekly age. The other parent stays at home with the kids, who are 14 and 10 respectively. If the Commission’s recommendations are adopted, they’ve just lost Family Tax Benefit B. They’re probably paying higher fees to send their kids to government schools than they were even one year ago. If the kids get sick, they not only have to find the money to see the doctor, but also the money to pay for whatever gets prescribed.

How about someone approaching 65, and thinking about retirement? Their superannuation funds aren’t great, because they’ve never had a high earning job. They won’t be able to even try for the pension for five more years, and even then there’s no guarantee. You see, they own their home, which they’ve paid off over decades. Thanks to gentrification in the area, it’s probably worth a fair bit now – almost certainly enough to exclude them from the pension.

Or someone leaving high school, wanting to go to university? Well, they’d have to pay more for their degrees, but hey, there’s always FEE-HELP, right? Except that debt will be higher, and they’ll have to start paying it back much sooner. They could always go on the job market and try to save money, but if they have trouble getting a job, they might well find themselves forced to move anywhere the government deems fit, or else be back where they started with no means of support.

Even a single, able-bodied, employed person doesn’t get off scott-free. They’ll be mostly okay – as long as they don’t get sick, require regular (or even semi-regular) GP visits and medicines, lose their job, drive to work, sign up for the NBN … you get the picture.

Amazingly, the government would like us to believe that this is all necessary. It’s all the previous administration’s fault, of course. The message is clear and consistent: the Coalition don’t want to do this, but they must. Why? Because, in Hockey’s words, ‘What this report proves is that we have inherited a mess’.

Really, Mr Hockey? Are pensioners out in the streets desperately trying to make their terrible circumstances known, as they are in Greece? Is our inflation rate at almost 60%, as it is in Venezuela? Is our debt as a percentage of GDP at 230%, as it is in Japan?

The short answer is NO. They’re not.

Our inflation rate is 2.9%.

Our debt as a percentage of GDP is 28$.

Yes, we have a deficit. Yes, if a completely unforeseen disaster happened right now, we would need to borrow more money to combat that. But that deficit came about as a result of spending designed to cushion us from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis. It was strategy – and it worked.

The government would have us believe this was ‘wasteful’. They prattle about pink batts and school halls, and just about turn themselves inside out trying to obscure the real effect of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ spending initiatives.

And yet the Coalition decided to increase the deficit by $8 billion ‘just in case’.

And yet the Coalition decided to spend $24 billion on buying Joint Strike Fighters in a highly questionable business deal.

The same people who even now wring their hands and all but confirm that their sights are squarely trained on the most vulnerable of us.

Hockey says the Commission’s recommendations are ‘courageous’.

No, Mr Hockey. What would be courageous would be your government refusing to kick people when they’re already down.

But what are the chances of that?

Guess it’s over to you, Labor, Greens, PUP. Anybody? Anybody?


Bowen vs Hockey at the National Press Club

August 28, 2013

Treasurers’ debates. They’re not usually exciting, and this was no exception. Nonetheless, this face-off by Chris Bowen and Joe Hockey wasn’t just duelling numbers or trading slogans. There were a few surprises.

Joe Hockey and Chris Bowen - the would-be Treasurers go head-to-head

Joe Hockey and Chris Bowen – the would-be Treasurers go head-to-head

Live-tweeted with annotations, brought to you by Storify.


The Menu Nobody Saw

June 13, 2013

Yesterday, we learned about an offensive menu produced for a fundraising dinner held by the Queensland Liberal National Party to assist their star candidate for the seat of Fisher, Mal Brough. At that time, Brough apologised for that menu, which he said had been prepared by someone outside the LNP. Joe Hockey, his guest of honour, said he hadn’t seen it, but condemned it anyway – and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott condescended to say it was ‘tacky’.

By 8pm last night, however, the story had changed. The restaurant owner, who that afternoon had been unable to recall even holding the event, suddenly remembered intricate details. He was the author of that document, he declared. He’d done it as a ‘private joke’, and no one had seen it except his son. Somehow, that ‘fake’ menu was left lying around where one of his staff could get at it, and that person posted it on Facebook ‘for political purposes’.

What was truly amazing, though, was that after that statement, Brough declared that he hadn’t seen the menu, after all. He’d simply apologised because he thought it was the right thing to do. It’s all the fault of the person who exposed the menu, who Brough insinuated was untrustworthy (claiming the man had been sacked from his job at the restaurant) and pursuing a shadowy political agenda. Oh, and in the space of one interview, he went from saying he never saw the menu, to declaring that the menu wasn’t even there.

Frankly, this story is utterly implausible.

Follow me here. This is what we’re being asked to believe:

A restaurant owner would have us believe he’d suffered a memory lapse that caused him to forget catering a political fund-raising dinner with the Shadow Treasurer as its guest of honour.

That same owner later remembered not only the event, but also creating, formatting and publishing the offending document – a task that would have taken a good deal of time out of a busy restaurateur’s day.

The document – apparently a private joke – was never shown to any of the guests.

The document was then effectively stolen by a staff member, who ‘leaked’ it for ‘political purposes’.

We should all just accept that explanation and move on.

That’s the meal we’re being asked to swallow (if you’ll excuse the analogy) – and which the media appears to accept without question.

So let’s question it, shall we?

Let’s accept for the moment that the owner did create that menu, and that it was never distributed. Where, then, is the menu that was used on the night? Restaurants don’t commonly throw away the menus they draw up for special events; they’re a valuable resource, especially if the client is (or may become) a regular.

Even if that menu has disappeared, where are the chef’s notes? Where are the receipts for the ingredients purchased for the evening? Either this restaurant has the worst office organisation in Australia, or someone’s being selective with the facts.

Then there’s the creation of the offending menu itself. It wasn’t scribbled on a piece of paper; that took time, and at least a little thought – not to mention a few clicks. Go to Google Images, type in ‘KFC Gillard’ and have a quick browse – but be prepared. All that work, for a ‘joke’ that the owner says he shared only with his son. If that’s really the case, why go to all the trouble? He could have saved himself a lot of time by simply having a conversation.

And finally, what about Brough’s statement? Yesterday there was no ambiguity; Brough had apparently seen the menu and knew it was not prepared by an LNP member. Today, he says he didn’t see the menu at all.

Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it? In 24 hours, one person’s regained detailed memories of an event that took place months ago, while another appears to have forgotten what he said the day before.

No, there’s just not a lot of credibility in this new ‘explanation’. The story keeps changing, and at least one of the parties (Brough) has form in giving misleading statements. It’s all a little bit convenient.

It’s probable that the owner did create the menu, but it’s simply unbelievable that it was kept away from the guests. At the very least, we know there was one printed copy – and what’s more likely? That it was shown to one person and then left lying around for someone to steal (since it was allegedly ‘private’), or that it did the rounds of at least the most important guests? Remember, Brough did admit to seeing the menu yesterday.

This attempt to make the issue go away is ham-fisted at best. It’s just one in a long series of incidents at Coalition (or Coalition-friendly) events where the Prime Minister has been the target of ‘jokes’ and insults that can only be described as repugnant. No amount of backpedalling, cries of ‘we knew nothing about this!’ and claims that this is some underhanded government strategy can make the story more credible.

What is giving this story traction and credibility is that no one in the mainstream media is asking the right questions. No one is following up on the restaurant employee who said they saw the menu out in the dining room. No one is challenging the owner to prove his claims, or even pressing him on why he changed his story. And no one is pinning Brough to the wall for his categorical statements yesterday. We’re just being told, over and over, the new story.

To carry the food analogy one step too far, I don’t like being spoon-fed – it’s lazy journalism, and it’s insulting to the people who look to the media for answers.

It’s a little difficult to get those answers when there’s a wall between people like Brough and the rest of us – but at least we can ask the questions. We shouldn’t simply accept the word of a man known to be elastic with the truth, or a man unwilling to provide proof for a frankly unbelievable story.


Why the Menu Matters

June 12, 2013

By now, pretty much everyone’s seen, or at least heard about, that menu, produced for a fundraising dinner held for Liberal National Party member Mal Brough. The guest of honour was Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey, lending a hand in the effort to oust Independent Peter Slipper from his seat.

Remember Mr Slipper? Former Speaker, toppled after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against him – allegations in which Mr Brough played a significant part? Oh, and let’s not forget, Brough himself admitted that he’d ‘misled’ people about the situation in order to help bring about Slipper’s downfall. But I digress.

The food presented for the dinner was, as expected, rather fancy. It’s the sort of thing you’d see at very high-end restaurants. That wasn’t the issue. It was the way the dishes were described. Now, you’d expect to see a little mockery of the opposing side at an electioneering function, and this was no exception. Kevin Rudd was compared to a goose at this one.

But then there was the way the menu referred to the Prime Minister:

The menu for Mal Brough's fundraising dinner

The menu for Mal Brough’s fundraising dinner

‘small breasts, big thighs, and [a derogatory reference to her genitalia]’. (I’ve blacked out the most offensive part of the description.)

Any way you look at that, it’s almost breathtakingly disgusting. The Prime Minister – the elected head of government – discussed in terms that wouldn’t be acceptable in the workplace, let alone a so-called fundraiser. A vicious attack on her physical appearance and her gender. Yes, her gender. When you start referring specifically to someone’s genitalia in such terms, you’re attacking their gender.

No doubt it was meant to be funny. I bet the guests got a big chuckle out of it, too. There’s nothing like mean-spirited mockery to really set the tone of an evening. More fun than teasing the ‘weird kid’ in the playground, right?

The menu made it to the public arena via the evening’s chef, in response to a tweet from Hockey:

One suspects the chef was less than impressed with Hockey pointing the finger at the Prime Minister and calling her behaviour offensive, given his attendance at the dinner – and his failure, at the time, to condemn the menu.

Brough was quick to get his face on television to say the menu was ‘inappropriate’ – but none of his people had drawn up that menu, and he didn’t know who did.

Inappropriate. That’s one word for it.

Hockey tweeted:

That, frankly, is absurd. He was the guest of honour. A copy of the menu was, according to the chef, placed on each table. Are we really supposed to believe that Hockey didn’t even glance at it? That no one pointed out the oh-so-hilarious descriptions?

And then there was Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, at a press conference with Steve Ciobo (who commented on Lateline that the Prime Minister was likely to ‘get her throat slit’), shaking his head and solemnly declaring that it was ‘tacky’ – but that we should also condemn ‘squalid’ jokes at union dinners. And by the way, wasn’t it convenient that this menu came to light at a time when the Prime Minister was under fire from her own party?

One after another, all three representatives from the Coalition worked to diminish the seriousness of the issue. Whether it was tepid language, attempts to divert or a completely unbelievable alibi, the reaction from the Coalition has fallen far short of the mark.

But really, what else should we have expected? Remember, we are talking about a Coalition that, under Abbott’s leadership, has never hesitated to making crude, sexist and violent remarks about the Prime Minister. Remember this?

Abbott fronting the 'No Carbon Tax' rally, backed by abusive signs

Abbott fronting the ‘No Carbon Tax’ rally, backed by abusive signs

At that rally, Opposition Senator Barnaby Joyce positively encouraged that placard-waving crowd to chant, ‘Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!’ People screamed for the Prime Minister (the ‘witch’) to be killed. Not one Coalition member out there spoke out against that. Abbott, in fact, even suggested the Prime Minister had brought it on herself.

Hockey stayed well away, but didn’t condemn any of it. Hmm, sounds familiar. Perhaps he ‘didn’t see’ any of those signs.

The menu is only the latest in a long series of sexist, violent attacks on the Prime Minister. It’s not merely disrespecting the office. It’s not picking out a long nose, or big ears, and highlighting them in a cartoon. These are sustained, specific attacks targeting the Prime Minister as a woman. The description of the offensive dish literally encouraged the diners to consider themselves cutting apart, chewing and swallowing those parts of a woman’s body that display her gender. This isn’t coming from some extremist group, hell-bent on armed revolution. This is either being endorsed by, or originating from, the Opposition – the Coalition that may well be elected to office in September.

At the time of the ‘No Carbon Tax’ rally, Independent MP Tony Windsor sounded a note of warning about the violent rhetoric. If it continued, and worsened, he said, he was afraid that it might spill over into actual violence. He was mocked mercilessly for ‘overreacting’.

But here we are, with MPs suggesting that the Prime Minister be murdered (and ex-MP Peter Reith suggesting that she commit suicide). Here we are, with MPs laughing about offensive, sexist descriptions before digging into the dish that was supposed to stand for her.

And here we are, with an Opposition Leader – possibly soon-to-be Prime Minister – who apparently thinks that it’s only ‘tacky’ or ‘unfortunate’ when someone suggests assaulting or even killing a woman.

Think about that.


Hockey fumbles the ball – again – on Coalition economic policy

May 20, 2013

Sometimes, I rather feel sorry for Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey – and then I remember that this is the man who might well end up being responsible for the nation’s finances, come September.

After Abbott’s Budget reply speech last week – a speech for which he received a good deal of criticism, and (for once) a heck of a grilling from the media – someone was going to have to attempt some damage control. And that someone pretty much had to be Hockey. After all, if you don’t send out your nominee for controller of public revenue from time to time, it’s going to be hard to sell your plan. As a bonus, Hockey doesn’t look or sound like the stereotypical Liberal. No private school vocabulary, no plummy accent. There’s a bit of the bogan in ol’ Joe, and the party uses that to its advantage whenever it’s trying to ‘connect’ with the people.

Accordingly, Hockey fronted up for an interview on ABC1’s Insiders program yesterday. Generally, the Coalition get a fairly easy ride in most interviews (the notable exception being – sometimes – ABC 730). Hockey, arriving early on Sunday morning, apparently expected the same comfortable treatment.

Instead, he was metaphorically nailed to the wall by Barrie Cassidy.

Asked to justify why the Coalition insisted on using the phrase ‘budget emergency’, Hockey at first flatly denied ever doing so (even though Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is still using it as of this morning), then fell back on familiar talking points. The budget isn’t in surplus, it will never be in surplus under Labor, we’re vulnerable because we’ve borrowed money from overseas, etc. He claimed that the major reason Australia holds a AAA credit rating from all agencies was due to the Howard government – oh, and that it was ‘cute’ that we’d achieved the rating from Fitch. It doesn’t mean much, anyway, he argued, because everywhere else is so bad. Naturally we’d look good in comparison.

In one stroke Hockey dismissed the across-the-board AAA credit rating, and the agencies. He would have us believe that it’s ultimately meaningless, that it has nothing to do with our actual economic status, and the fact that countries in Europe are undergoing incredible economic stress is the only reason we have this rating. (And, in the case of Fitch, that it’s just ‘cute’.) Hang on a moment, though. Didn’t the Opposition pooh-pooh the idea that our high dollar (among other economic factors) was directly related to European circumstances? Oops, never mind. Little details like consistency aren’t important, right?

It’s all about stability, said Hockey. That’s what the Coalition was going to provide. That statement surely had Cassidy mentally rubbing his hands with glee as he invited Hockey to give some examples, and Hockey was happy to oblige. Delay the superannuation contribution increase (from 9% to 12%) for two years. Scrap Schoolkids’ Bonus. Scrap Lower Income Superannuation Contribution Scheme. Scrap 12,000 public service jobs via ‘natural attrition’ (which is a fancy way of saying, ‘we’ll merge various departments and restructure people out of existence without actually having to call it redundancy’).

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine exactly how these cuts provide any stability whatsoever.

The delay in implementing the 12% superannuation contribution was where Hockey really got lost. Cassidy was relentless, pushing for figures, and Hockey either couldn’t or wouldn’t provide them. ‘I don’t have the actuarial tables in front of me,’ he repeated. ‘It hasn’t kicked in …’ He ended up utterly tangled in his own argument, unwilling to admit that there would be any effect on people’s retirement savings. In fact, he said that the delay was effectively a good measure, since people would have ‘more money in their pockets rather than in superannuation for just a short period of time’.

This is flatly wrong, and a very disturbing error for the putative Treasurer of Australia to make. Compulsory superannuation contributions do not come out of your take-home pay. They are paid by the employer on top of your salary or wage. Delaying the increase to 12% will have no effect whatsoever on the ‘money in the pocket’. Hockey should know this. It’s simple. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt – that perhaps it was a simple slip of the tongue – it speaks volumes about his ability to think on his feet about financial matters.

The rest of Hockey’s interview only added to the impression that here was a man who just didn’t know why he was there, or what he should be saying. He fell back on talking points at every opportunity. Whenever Cassidy pressed him, he would interpret it as a ‘sanctimonious’ lecture from the government, and throw in an assertion that the Coalition was ‘honest’. Even then, he seemed unable to stop himself.

On the NDIS, he said that there was no possibility of delay – but in the next breath, hinted that it might not be implemented because he didn’t trust the government’s figures. That undermined Abbott’s Budget Reply, in which he not only supported the NDIS, but actually claimed it was as much the Coalition’s ‘achievement’ as the government’s.

On the Gonski reforms, he tried to say that the budget actually cut education spending, while being funded from the mining tax (it’s actually funded from general revenue). At the same time, he admitted, ‘I don’t know what Gonski looks like, what the whole education plan looks like’.

On the Coalition’s proposed tax review, he ruled out any change to the GST – then suggested they might, possibly, perhaps look at it. In a year or two. By the next election, certainly. Assuming ‘key stakeholders’ (read: big business) went along with it.

Overall, Hockey gave the impression that he really didn’t know what he was doing, or why he was even in front of the cameras. It might be poor preparation, but this isn’t the first time Hockey has given such a dreadful performance. He’s been caught out on the Reserve Bank cash rate, sources of funding for various programs, the difference between zero growth and low growth, unable to explain the Coalition’s own figures, and – famously – redefining the word ‘tax’ in order to criticise the government. These might explain why Hockey so rarely fronts the media without Abbott right there to step in, since Shadow Finance Spokesperson Andrew Robb is nearly as inarticulate as Hockey himself.

It’s really not a good look in an alternative Treasurer. But there’s this to consider. Polls have (inexplicably) shown that, after the Budget was handed down last Tuesday, Hockey is preferred Treasurer. As the election nears, Hockey will have to front the media more often. If he acts as he has until now – unable to provide figures, contradicting his own party’s stated aims and policies, and making glaring errors on the simplest of economic questions – the Coalition’s claim to be better at managing the economy will be seriously tested.

It needs to be. The Coalition rests on the laurels of Peter Costello’s work as Treasurer in the Howard government (glossing over the fact that it was a much higher taxing government than Labor under either Rudd or Gillard), tends to be long on rhetoric and short on policy detail, and has a history of not releasing its costings until so close to an election that Treasury and the Australian people cannot sufficiently scrutinise them. That’s if they give their costings to Treasury at all – remember back in 2010, when they got out of submitting their costings to Treasury byaccusing them of colluding with the government to ‘steal an election’? In fact, the Coalition’s had a ‘pass’ on the kind of scrutiny that is absolutely necessary, while feeding talking points on ‘Labor mismanagement’ to the media that, too often, are merely repeated.

Hopefully, Cassidy’s interview with Hockey is just the first hint that the tide may be turning, and we can look forward to seeing both major parties (not to mention the Greens, and newcomers like Katter’s Australia Party and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party) subjected to real investigation and interrogation from the media – whether mainstream or independent.


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