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Whatever happened to 'without fear or favour'?

Date

After ranting joyfully over Julia Gillard's broken promise for years, conservative columnists have suddenly had to change their tune.

Annabel Crabb.

Annabel Crabb. Photo: James Brickwood

As dawn broke over Australia's new federal budget last Wednesday, it found some interest groups reeling at the new and straitened circumstances under which they will henceforth be obliged to live.

Among the hardest-hit are firebrand conservative columnists, whose crucial supply of rant-fuel has been cut off abruptly by the newly released national fiscal blueprint.

The suffering of such opinion-leaders is twofold. Not only will most be obliged personally to pay the deficit levy on Australians earning more than $180,000 a year, but they have also effectively been stripped of two subjects - class-war taxes on the rich, and the reprehensibility of broken campaign promises - on which many had formerly relied heavily for rhetorical ballast.

Julia Gillard's broken promise on the carbon tax provided a rich content source on which such commentators were able to subsist comfortably for years; even after the defeat of her government, it was not unusual to see entire columns reminding readers of how pusillanimous an act it is for a politician to say one thing before an election and do another afterwards.

But the budget has largely stilled the production line of outrage on these points, proving once again that budgets - particularly harsh ones - do indeed change behaviour. In the days before the budget, when the Coalitions's plans to raid fuel excise and stiff millionaires was but a rumour, News columnist Andrew Bolt urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to issue a general public apology for even entertaining the idea of breaking his ''no new taxes'' campaign promise.

But when the dreadful truth was confirmed, Mr Bolt dashed off a column at 6.30am moodily commending the overall direction of the budget, then spent the rest of the day attacking the ABC, Manus Island refugees, Julia Gillard, Adam Goodes, Kevin Rudd's insulation scheme, and demanding to know exactly where Barack Obama was when the diplomatic compound at Benghazi was attacked.

Once upon a time, a budget that sprung not only petrol price increases but also a new tax on rich voters would have been an opportunity for Mr Bolt to spend day after day in ceaseless, pleasurable thunderation. The scarifying effects of the budget here are obvious. Piers Akerman, likewise, for whom election-pledge chicanery and petrol-tank thumping has provided an invaluable income stream in recent years, warned Mr Abbott passionately before the budget to abandon any thought of excise increases or new taxes.

But on budget night Mr Akerman, too, climbed resignedly aboard the tumbril, issuing a blog post so riven with inner conflicts that it struggled, at times, with both syntax and spelling: ''Forget the predictable cries of anguish from the ABC's trained troupe of rent-seekers,'' he gasped bravely. ''There is not that as much suffering (sic) as they might have you believe.'' The petrol tax increase, meanwhile, became an ''additional cent or to (sic)'' and was swiftly abandoned for some uncharacteristically wandering historical points about Ben Chifley and Winston Churchill.

Increased petrol taxes? And no tub-thumpers angry? Surely Alan Jones would stay strong. If Julia Gillard had hiked fuel excise, Alan Jones would instantly have recommended firing her into space, and hang the expense.

But on budget morning, when the Prime Minister reported for his Jonesian rub-down, he received nothing but approval for pricier fuel.

''There are legitimate reasons around the world for this,'' avowed Jones sternly. ''One is to stop the guzzling of a scarce resource.''

Such is the price of this budget. Hard-working Australians, stripped of their dignity and self-respect, obliged to get by on scraps.

Elsewhere, new explanations were discovered for why breaking promises can sometimes be OK.

''A tally of promises kept and those supposedly broken is a hopeless measure of a government's worth,'' decided The Australian's Nick Cater, on balance. Janet Albrechtsen gently mourned the ''debate about broken promises'' that ''infects politics worldwide''. She also told readers the Danish word meaning ''debate about broken promises''. It's ''loftebrudsdebatten'', just in case you get asked at pub trivia.

Trust deficits, in this joined-up world we all inhabit, aren't just restricted to politics. They also accrue to the hyper-opinionated, especially those who adjust those opinions according to the political breeze.

Incidentally, it's worth pointing out that Joe Hockey - the author of all this inconvenience - is probably the player concerned who can least be accused of double-dealing.

He made his views on ''entitlement'' known before the election, and in government he has ploughed on and written a budget to match, in the process collecting brickbats for everything from his taste in smokeables and music to the price-tag on a dress worn by his wife, a self-made woman who has earned a lot over her life, not least the right to wear whatever she wants.

People used to write of Hockey that he lacked political and economic courage. But they don't any more; that's political climate change for you.

Annabel Crabb is the host of ABC-TV's Kitchen Cabinet. Twitter @annabelcrabb

104 comments

  • yes but tell us which ex PM is still being investigated by the victorian police for her part in the AWU slush fund scandal?

    Commenter
    frank
    Date and time
    May 18, 2014, 1:43PM
    • Irrelevant to the point being made Frank.

      Commenter
      Ex liberal voter
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 1:55PM
    • Heh, heh- deflection, the Cons' only tool left.
      Ummm, there's always "Ashbygate" and the slush fund "Australians for Honest Politics" that require further investigation for HIS involvement.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 2:00PM
    • That's a false statement, the AWU is being investigated. What with this right wing habit of taking the slightest 1% and milking it for all its worth until it become fact?
      Fact always wins in the end but I guess its until it does is where the value of the false mantra achieves its value.
      The LNP getting voted in on absolute lies is the best example of how well this behaviour works.

      Commenter
      Mark
      Location
      oz
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 2:01PM
    • aaah yes. The 'scandal' which seems so far to amount to the former Prime Minister having bad taste in ex-boyfriends. Of which the Noalition last year was unable to mount a single specific allegation, or even claim against the PM but insisted on performing resuscitation on the corpse. Lets see what, or even if any charges arise. C'mon frank. Annabel's column was on a different topic, so respond to that. Exactly where are the screaming headlines such as 'kick this mob out', where are the outraged 'tax-paying citizens' holding placards on the Parliament House lawn? why isn't Alan Jones telling loyal listeners that Phoney Tony should be thrown out in a chafe bag? Given Janet Albrechtsen's sudden new interest in foreign words, she might look up the meaning of this german one: schadenfreude.

      Commenter
      annistella
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 2:16PM
    • Only if you can explain the relevance of your comment to the article above, except as a diversionary tactic.

      Commenter
      JLD
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 2:41PM
    • http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/13/ralph-blewitt-royal-commission-police-statement

      "Former Australian Workers Union assistant secretary Ralph Blewitt told the royal commission into union governance and corruption he did not write a statement he provided to the Victorian police in relation to events at the AWU"

      “If I have perjured myself in this matter by stating this is a true and correct statement then I apologise to the court.”

      Commenter
      Charles in charge
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 3:07PM
    • ex-liberal voter - you must be the one who is ringing the radio station all the time with the Labor line of I've voted for the coalition all my life but I'll never vote for them again". Please spare me such nonsense - if it wasn't for Labor's waste we wouldn't need to reduce spending and lift taxes (impose a "levy"). Despite earning well into 6 figures I got a cheque for $900 and promptly put it in the bank. Had they spent the same money on infrastructure like ports, road and rail we would not be slowing down now. Labor lost a once in a lifetime opportunity to build for future generations like no other in living memory.

      Commenter
      the Truth
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 3:16PM
    • The carbon tax was a monumental economic reform that divided our nation. You can't compare lying over that to supposed lies over the minutiae of a budget, such as lowering a rate of pension indexation (so that it still keeps up with cost of living rises) that won't take effect until after the next election. Lies are always wrong, but lying over a major transformation of the economy that had been bitterly opposed for almost a decade cannot be compared to applying a 1.5% efficiency dividend to the Left's ABC.

      Commenter
      Gatsby
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 3:17PM
    • I posted a comment defending Bolt from this author's baseless attack but it was censored. This sort of conduct assumes Fairfax readers aren't capable of forming their own opinion about Conservative viewpoints.
      My comment noted that "Andrew Bolt is the most incisive, most influential and most readable political commentator of our generation" and went on to demonstrate why the author's attack was wrong.

      Commenter
      Gatsby
      Date and time
      May 18, 2014, 3:28PM

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