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Phase one of Tony Abbott’s strategy to sell the budget is to deny, point blank, that it is based on the deceit of broken promises made before last year’s election.
Tony Abbott denies being untrustworthy
Prime Minister Tony Abbott defends the Budget, claiming it is "fundamentally honest". Nine News.
More than that, it is to assert – again point blank – that there were no broken promises and, in effect, that black is white.
''I stand by what I said before the election!'' a defiant Prime Minister told an incredulous opposition after an attack that was anticipated from the moment Joe Hockey delivered his speech on Tuesday.
After eight questions demanded an explanation for the ''deceit'' of the jobless, motorists, the sick, the states and families, Bill Shorten asked Abbott to ''look Australians in the eye and apologise for his lies''.
After the question was rephrased using parliamentary language, an utterly unfazed and confident Abbott simply dismissed the Labor leader as ''all politics, no policy; all complaint, no solutions''.
When Shorten followed with one final attempt to extract contrition, an unbowed Abbott replied: ''You know what the Australian people were looking for in the election last year? After six years of dysfunction, the people of Australia were looking for some leadership.''
Behind the bravado was the conviction that Tuesday’s budget would be for this government what Peter Costello’s 1996 effort was for John Howard’s administration – tough medicine that would set him up for a decade or so in power.
Yes, Abbott has factored in some short-term unpopularity, and admitted as much on commercial radio, but he is convinced the bad news in the budget will ultimately be accepted as the hard but fair decisions the country needs.
The backlash, reflected in pre-budget polls informed by leaks of the deficit levy and fuel excise increase, continued on talkback radio and social media.
An analysis of 120 talkback calls by iSentia found 68 were unfavourable, 35 neutral and only 18 supportive. The budget’s big positives, the medical research fund and new spending on roads, had zero cut-through, says iSentia’s Patrick Baume.
Favourable calls focused on it being a responsible budget that was needed to clean up ''Labor’s mess'' – the message Abbott and Hockey have pushed for months. The hostile ones homed in on the broken promises and the impact some measures would have on the vulnerable.
It is early days, but the one-dimensional formula that Abbott developed in opposition to tear down Julia Gillard is unlikely to work as well for Shorten, assuming he intends to replicate it. His task begins with Thursday’s budget reply.