Federal Politics

Treasurer Scott Morrison emasculated by Malcolm Turnbull's budget timing: Labor

Labor says Treasurer Scott Morrison has been "completely emasculated" by the decision to bring forward the federal budget, seemingly without his knowledge.

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Mr Morrison was on talkback radio at 9.30am on Monday, spruiking the scheduled budget date of May 10 against persistent rumours it would be held early.

Just an hour later, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the rumours were true - the budget would indeed be brought forward to May 3, to allow for a likely double dissolution election on July 2.

And not long after that, the Treasurer was back in front of a microphone, telling reporters he only found out about the move "at the cabinet meeting this morning at 10".

"Previously people asked me, 'What day is the budget?' May 10, that's what it was until I was advised this morning that it will be on May 3," he said.

Political opponents seized on the apparent blindsiding of Mr Morrison. Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said his counterpart had been "thrown under the bus by Malcolm Turnbull" yet again.

"The Treasurer has been completely emasculated and has no influence over tax policy or even the timing of his own budget," Mr Bowen said in a press release.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison.  Photo: Andrew Meares

But other frontbenchers were involved in the machinations to allow for the parliamentary sleight of hand.

Attorney-General George Brandis signed a letter of advice to Governor-General Peter Cosgrove testifying that the course of action proposed by the Prime Minister was soundly based in constitutional law and supported by numerous precedents.

Curiouser and curiouser: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison.
Curiouser and curiouser: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison. Photo: Andrew Meares

Senator Brandis later told Sky News the Governor-General had been given "good time" to consider the request, although the aforementioned letters - and General Cosgrove's reply - were both dated March 21.

The Governor-General's assent was time-stamped 9.15am, minutes before Mr Morrison was preparing to speak to 2GB's Ray Hadley.

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The PM says he is actively considering a double dissolution election, recalling Parliament to consider industrial laws and bringing the budget forward.

A cabinet teleconference was then held at 10am and the decision announced by the Prime Minister half an hour after.

While on radio, the Treasurer repeatedly stuck by the old budget date in response to gentle ribbing from Hadley.

"May 10, May 10!" he said. "We're preparing for May 10, Ray."

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Later, he deflected questions about his involvement in the decision-making process.

"These are matters for the PM to determine. It's my job to deliver the budget. It's his job to decide on what day it's delivered," Mr Morrison said.

Prime ministers and their treasurers must work closely together but friction between the two top jobs is something of a constant in Australian politics (Peter Costello described the nature of the relationship as "crusty").

But Mr Morrison has several times found himself on the outer on tax policy, allowed to run ideas up the flag pole but ultimately marooned when it came to final decisions.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten seized on the timing of Monday morning's events, saying the sidelining of the Treasurer showed there was "chaos at the heart" of the government.

A spokesman for Mr Morrison said Labor's claims were "ridiculous".

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