Australia, will you still love me tomorrow?

After the breathtaking serenade Joe Hockey sang to the voters in his second budget, there are signs this Romeo has more wooing to do.

The Treasurer’s pitch hasn’t quite convinced everybody he’s deserving of their affection, let alone their vote.

The Murdoch stable of papers is a case in point.

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Flagship masthead The Australian taunted Mr Hockey and his Prime Minister with one of the more offensive lines from last year’s tough love libretto: “Once were lifters. Now Abbott and Hockey are leaning towards a poll.”

The paper saw the spectacular 180-degree turn from last year’s debt and deficit crisis through the prism of a vote-buying exercise. It’s difficult to disagree.

The danger for the government is this context merely feeds the cynicism of voters.

Sure, the two million small businesses and their million employees have plenty to be happy about, but the niggle must remain: will it last?

The problem for the government is that this doubt may stop businesses going into the cheap debt on offer, despite the generous tax incentives.


NewsCorp papers took a tough line on Joe Hockey’s second budget.

The next few weeks will be a white-knuckle ride, especially for the Treasurer. The poll or polls he’s most leaning towards are the Newspoll and other opinion surveys that are the meat and drink of politicians.

The Daily Telegraph, normally a leader in the Liberals’ cheer squad, is very hard nosed.

Its front page has the dwarfs – Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott and Mr Hockey – singing “we owe, we owe, so it’s off to work we go”.

The test will be which narrative voters will believe – last year’s warnings that debt and deficit are bad or this year’s urgings to ‘get out and have a go’ and hang the expense.

The Herald Sun captures this exquisite dilemma. Our cabinet heroes are on a ship buffeted by a sea of deficits: “Work, spend and pray. Abbott gambles on jobs boom to save the nation and his ship”.

Some of the boffins, self-appointed experts if you like, in the budget lock-up believe Mr Hockey has successfully plugged into self-interest.

One told me the test people apply to every budget is: “What does it mean for me?”

For pensioners it means relief that their meagre incomes will not be further eroded by last year’s proposed indexation changes. That should leave about three million voters happier at least.

For families the benefits are not so immediate. The childcare package does not kick in till 2017. Some kids may well have left primary school by then.

But taxpayers generally are faced with the reality of bracket creep. That’s when they slip into higher income brackets thanks to inflation. Even though wage growth has slipped behind the CPI, it is still growing.

According to the budget papers, the government’s revenue from income taxes will keep growing, outstripping the size of the last Labor government’s tax take.

Mr Hockey says he’s aware of the problem but can’t do anything about it unless the senate lets him cut spending.

Uh oh, that doesn’t sound very voter friendly.

Probably a sure sign this is what it looks like; a pre-election budget. The only question now is when.

We’ll see a bit more poll dancing before we get an answer.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

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