Many years ago there was a cricket fan in Sydney or thereabouts who was known as Yabba.
Yabba was permanently ensconced on what was then the Paddington Hill at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and possessed of a foghorn voice, whose invariable exhortation was ‘Ave a go ya mug!’
Tony Abbott is far too young to remember Yabba, but has apparently chosen to channel him as his chosen conduit for the 2015 budget. Of course, he would never call a voter a mug – at least not in public. But the barracking is at least as persistent, and, it must be said, very possibly just as futile.
As the batsmen stoically ignored Yabba, it may well be that the punters fail equally to respond to the somewhat desperate prime minister. Certainly the stock market has bounce, in the expectation that small business voters will stock up on the tax-free gadgets on offer; after all, the family can always use a new laptop.
It may well be a bonanza for the tax-shifting multinational floggers of Chinese-made goodies.
But to suggest that this will somehow translate to a demand for new jobs and investment is quite a stretch. $20,000 a pop is certainly welcome, but even for the smallest of small business is hardly serious money.
And the same applies to the tax cuts; well worth trousering, but not enough incentive to turn around a sluggish and reluctant economy.
But then, they are not intended to. The aim of the budget is not to make changes, but to produce enough of a warm and fuzzy feeling in the opinion polls so that the beleaguered government can catch its electoral breath. Real reform, any serious kind of budget repair, is out of the question: too hard and too risky. And in fact, all the necessary tools have already been ruled out.
There is to be no damage done to the family household budget, which means no broad-ranging changes to welfare, health or education – the big-ticket items. True, there is a bit of trimming at the top of the pension entitlements of the very rich, and some very vague commitments to cuts in the overall health budget sometime in the future, but nothing to scare the horses.
And as for any attacks on the lurks and perks of the super-rich – family trusts, negative gearing and superannuation concessions – they remain untouched and untouchable. There is an idea to try to do something about some of the legalised tax evasion practised by some of the multinationals, but in the absence of even the most hypothetical figures, it is little more than wishful thinking.
In the end the budget is mainly white noise – no budget reform and certainly no vision. It is just another big-spending, big-taxing manifesto of the kind one would expect of a pre-election platform. Abbott, of course, indignantly rejects this, in spite of the fact that the numbers in his own budget statements confirm it: he simply refuses to accept either the present or the future.
Or, for that matter, the recent past: he also said that Joe Hockey and Scott Morrison had never referred to fraud and rort around what he, and they, called the double-dipping of parental leave entitlements, which embarrassingly included two of his own ministers.
Tony Abbott falls back on denial as his default option. He tried to retrieve the situation, or at least some of it, by drawing a distinction between the private and public sectors – it was only the shiny bums of Canberra who were really double-dipping. Presumably they can be bashed with impunity. The problem there is that public servants also include nurses, police, firemen and other frontline workers as well as pen-pushers, so it didn’t help much.
And of course the parental leave scheme depends on budget cuts to other welfare measures previously marked for savings to the budget, which are vigorously opposed by a majority of senators, so they could well not happen at all.
And the much-trumpeted childcare handouts (work-force participation, not welfare) are not even due to cut in for another two years, so not a lot of the immediate gratification the voters crave there.
Which leaves us with the perennial promise to develop the north – if only someone can tell us how.
The only targeted funding is to pave a couple of hundred kilometres of dirt roads, not exactly a prospect to fire the imagination of the millions.
The best that can be said for what is a pretty vacuous budget is that it may at least give a general boost to confidence, which is very badly needed – but when the applause subsides, what comes next?
Tony’s tradies and the like may whip out their credit cards as soon as possible – that is the idea – and will then, presumably, put them firmly away for the next couple of years.
And the general malaise will then return, just in time for the next budget, which is why the next budget probably won’t happen: there is no money left.
Whatever the rose-coloured predictions for the good times ahead, they certainly won’t happen before the next election, in fact things will probably get worse, and another spendathon would simply not be credible.
So the likelihood – perhaps even an inevitability – is for Abbott to go to the polls early, at least as soon as next year, and hope like hell the post-budget boost holds up till then. The excuse may be more senate resistance over the welfare cuts, giving him a reason to reprise the promises of parental leave and childcare. It might work, but it might not; he would need a lot of luck, not to mention rather more good management than his gaffe-prone government would so far suggest is likely.
But in the end, it is hard to see an alternative.
There is nothing much left to do but follow Yabba’s advice: Ave a go ya mug!
But please, this time, even if you are planning to take the voters for mugs, try not to call them mugs. At least not until the election is won and lost – then, of course, all bets are off.