I had great pleasure in watching Joe Hockey’s master class in being Daniel in the Lion’s Den last night. I could detect two, possibly three Liberal voters amongst those who asked the questions – and let’s not even talk about Tony Jones – but for a change it was all the better for it. You have to know your onions to succeed in such an environment, and that is what Hockey did.
But you also have to have something to sell. If the budget were as flimsy and badly constructed as Jones and his cohorts thought, then there would be no defending it. But with all the firepower that the ABC could muster, all the most poisonous questions they could dredge up, they hardly laid a glove on the Treasurer.
So three observations. First, the budget is a nicely constructed balance of fiscal consolidation in a setting where perceived fairness was a prime consideration. For folks such as myself listening to the bleatings of people who are worried about their friend with three young children who might hypothetically become sick all at the same time wondering where they are going to get the money from to go to the doctor, there was an answer, but there was also this sense of if you have three children, whose responsibility is it anyway? At $21 for a visit to a doctor to see three seriously ill children, we have a ridiculously cheap medical service. Shameful, but there was plenty more like it.
But second, the budget, as finely tuned as it was, is a hard sell. I keep a somewhat close eye on these things and knew almost none of the fine detail. The question really does come to mind whether the various bits and pieces are too subtle for a population in which large numbers insist on getting very expensive things for free. The interesting part of the conversation was that in every instance in which some big ticket issue was raised, Joe had an answer that completely took the wind from their sails.
Third, I know that Joe keeps saying that they kept spending up because the economy is so flat and needs the stimulus. I hope that is only rhetoric. If he believes it, or if most of the cabinet believe it, they will never be able to get the budget right since they won’t have thought through completely what needs to be done and why.