Federal Politics


Now hear this: but will anyone listen?

The overarching question for Labor about today's budget is not whether it is good for you and me but whether anyone is still listening to the government's messages.

If they are, the very gloomy polls numbers might rebound.

But how can anyone hear about ''Labor values'' contained in the budget when all that is overshadowed by fresh revelations in the scandal surrounding Craig Thomson. He might be an ex-Labor MP, but Julia Gillard will still rely on his vote this week in Parliament, a point that will be hammered when MPs assemble today after the long autumn break.

The 1100-page report on Thomson and the Health Services Union is damning. On page 504, investigator Terry Nassios concludes that Thomson did use his union-supplied credit cards to spend $5793 on the procurement of escort services.

Perhaps Gillard had early information about that conclusion when she dumped Thomson from the Labor caucus a week ago.

That action was too little, too late and, in more bad news last night, the late release of the Fair Work Australian report swamped news of the budget.


A few hours earlier, the situation was looking much rosier for Gillard.

She has been banging on for some time about the budget being framed on ''Labor values''.

She emphasised this line to caucus yesterday, telling them to spread the word in their electorates that the budget would deliver for low- and middle-income earners. They know the PM is tough but they also are depressed that her judgment calls have been severely questioned.

To their relief, the PM is now resolved to ''conquer'' the political pressure on the government.

Gillard surely realises, however, that ''getting on the front foot'' won't be nearly enough to save her government. That's because the miraculous achievement of a (projected) budget surplus next financial year will bring only fleeting glee to Labor ranks. A key reason is that this target has been flagged and locked in for months.

Wayne Swan will be able to announce tonight that the surplus will land slightly higher than widely tipped, at $1.5 billion.

It is highly unusual for this number to be promulgated beforehand and will prompt the Opposition today to say this smacks of desperation.

What Labor needs to save Gillard is a sound political strategy that builds on the budget and smokes out Tony Abbott's real intentions about company tax and voting against other savings. In the short term, Swan should unveil a big sweetener in the budget tonight to mesmerise voters and to overshadow the nasties in his fifth budget.

Unless there is a bold initiative, rather than more self-congratulation about the surplus, the whole event could be swamped, again, by negative news about Thomson, as well as Peter Slipper.

And what about the cuts?

Defence should brace for more cuts, and public servants and the top 2 per cent of salary earners should look out too.

The PM told caucus the National Disability Insurance Scheme, an aged-care overhaul and support for school-aged children, as well as the carbon pricing compensation, would give MPs good lines for their electorates.

This confirms three things.

One is the branding of this ''Labor values'' budget.

Another is that the government is shy about the environmental benefits of the carbon tax and has been pushed by Abbott into promoting solely the economic aspects.

The third is that the PM has not been reading reports, including in this newspaper, that Labor MPs are very suss about appearing outside shopping centres because of the personal abuse being hurled by punters at their leader.