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The six-week parliamentary break has done less to improve the government's parlous reputation with voters than it had hoped.
Getting the budget message right
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Getting the budget message right
Cabinet meets Monday amid mixed messages about the budget. With Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, and Liberal MP Andrew Laming.
If anything, the lay-off has exacerbated a sense of drift and occasioned the odd break-out of political desperation.
The next two weeks of parliamentary sittings must be used to turn this around or Tony Abbott's first year will be judged as mediocre, even by his barrackers.
An opening year "fail" grading would not be terminal for Abbott's leadership nor for his government's re-election hopes, but it would make both more problematic.
Poor performances by senior ministers and a mystifying surrender of economic authority have seen the government's centrepiece fiscal strategy - as outlined in its supposedly agenda-setting initial budget - fall hostage to populist balance-of-power critics, an (understandably) opportunistic opposition, and contradictions in the government's own messaging.
Some senior ministers have stuck with the orthodox negotiating approach of applying maximum pressure on Senate recalcitrants claiming the budget faces an unambiguous crisis and that savings must therefore be passed. Others however have flip-flopped, warning first of an emergency and a crisis, and then counselling that there really is no problem because 99 per cent of the budget has already passed.
It's a nonsense position conflating appropriations for ordinary recurrent spending with high-profile and highly controversial policies forming the backbone of the budget. Reforms cannot simultaneously be vital and urgent, and yet, of little consequence.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, one of too few to have stepped up to the political-economic challenge, has nonetheless been slammed for arguing on the weekend that if spending cannot be cut, taxes would have to rise.
Labor's Bill Shorten branded that "extortion", choosing to see the statement as a threat to increase taxes. But what other options are there? If outlays for health and pensions etcetera exceed revenue and are projected to be growing at a faster rate than inflation - as all agree they are - what other options will there be? Assuming that doing nothing is not an option, that only leaves either reducing spending, or increasing revenue.
The fact that Cormann has been howled down for such frankness by senators who feel no sanction in blocking savings measures designed to address the imbalance, speaks to the abject political authority of the government right now.
And that in turn stems from its self-created budget confusion.
If the government cannot even ensure that its own ministers and backbenchers run a consistent line on the case for fiscal contractions, why would voters be convinced?
Abbott has proved a more effective prime minister than his many detractors had envisioned - particularly in his handling of the international aspects of the job.
Into this basket can also be placed his success of stopping the boats.
This has been achieved despite fierce opposition at home and despite the strains on relations with Indonesia and Malaysia.
But on the purely domestic front, Abbott has been let down.
Over the next two weeks, leading to his September 7 anniversary, he must find the right tone for communicating his government's economic plan - and build the parliamentary case needed to make it happen.