Aside from its alarming treatment of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, one of the other disconcerting things about the first Abbott Government Budget is the counterintuitive behaviour it’s provoked from the major players.
Not only the Coalition government itself, but the Labor opposition and the Greens are behaving in ways that are counter to what voters would normally expect of them.
This is making it more difficult to work out who exactly is on the side of the angels, and could further entrench the unease that voters are currently feeling about the Budget and politics more broadly.
These behavioural contradictions are disturbingly numerous, and seemingly without logic.
For example, anyone with a half a brain would have thought the Government would avoid any perceived or real broken promises after Tony Abbott brutally reframed oath-breaking as a sign of political incompetence during his time as opposition leader.
And yet we find Abbott in recent weeks audaciously denying that clearly breached promises have been flouted; claiming that a previously unknown hierarchy of commitments somehow forgives lesser oaths being sacrificed for major ones; and insisting that Budget decisions that are “consistent with our promises” will suffice.
That’s not to mention Treasurer Joe Hockey’s Twilight Zone logic that voters should have known Abbott’s “no new taxes” commitment didn’t really hold because he‘d already announced a levy on big business to co-fund the Paid Parental Leave scheme.
Said PPL had already set conservative and libertarian supporters of the Coalition spinning off-kilter. A progressive policy that respects and supports the right of working women to breed and return to work – initiated by TONY ABBOTT – was just too hard to assimilate. It even sparked concerns whether Abbott really was “their man” or just a DLP wannabe.
Then another Captain’s Pick policy flopped onto the table – a levy, a TAX, on higher income earners to defray their share of the economic burden.
As they say in the classics, this rustled some jimmies, both within the Coalition party room and without. Yet, the Budget’s soft treatment of corporates will go some way to assuaging that concern, even though the PPL remains loitering palely in the corner.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the Greens’ inconsistent behaviour is similarly disconcerting.
Initially Deputy Leader Adam Bandt opposed the sensible and climate-friendly reintroduction of increases to the fuel excise as an unfair impost on Australians’ cost of living. But a few days later, the Greens Leader Christine Milne welcomed the reform saying it was a long-term structural change that the party had long advocated.
The Greens now plan to support the legislation in the Senate but also amend it to divert the funds raised from the excise away from road construction projects to those involving public transport.
Having over-ruled one of her party’s spokespeople to align the Greens’ budget response more closely with their policies, Milne did the complete opposite after having prevailed in a party room stoush over the debt levy. Milne’s subsequent declaration against the temporary tax was a direct contradiction of the Greens’ policy to increase taxes on the wealthy.
And Labor is also suffering from the same topsy turvey disease as the Coalition and the Greens.
The ALP will oppose elements of the budget that are unfair, do what they can in the Senate to stymie the “dismantling of universal healthcare as we know it” and resist any changes to pensions, although that reform is still a long way off.
But Labor also seems to be suggesting they’ll oppose broken promises, regardless of merit. It’s application of this crazy logic that will see the ALP reject the fuel excise increase. This was also the basis of Labor’s initial opposition to the debt levy on high-income earners, although they’re now revisiting that position in light of the income threshold being more than doubled from $80,000 to $180,000.
In short, the Coalition, the Greens and Labor are all over the shop and risk losing more respect every day.
The Greens’ and Labor’s reactions to the Budget will be known once their formal responses are made on Thursday night. In crafting those responses, both parties will be faced with a choice between politically expedient positions that align with their policies, and those that do not.
It will be tempting to adopt Abbott’s patented Mr No persona and simply oppose everything, but to do so would be unwise.
By letting baser politics draw them away from their policy base, all three parties have exposed themselves to accusations of inconsistency, at best, and expedient loyalty at the worst. Returning and sticking to their parties’ core values would be the first step in reversing that perception.
This post first appeared at the King’s Tribune.