James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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He’s behind you! Abbott’s theatrical budget reply lays down battle lines

Published 17 May 2013 09:49, Updated 20 May 2013 08:10

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He’s behind you! Abbott’s theatrical budget reply lays down battle lines

The big picture ... Tony Abbott was predictably short on detail about how he would get the budget back to surplus did at least make some major announcements. Photo: Andrew Meares

You’ve got a love a bit of theatre, and Tony Abbott’s budget reply speech had oodles of it.

The public gallery had been stacked with supporters who burst into “spontaneous” applause at key moments.

Abbott broke with parliamentary etiquette to regularly address the viewers at home by directly staring down the barrels of the fixed cameras in the House of Reps. “We pledge ourselves to your service,” he said to conclude his almost presidential speech.

If Abbott had asked his colleagues and the gallery to do the old pantomime “He’s b--e-h-i-n-d you, he’s b-e-h-i-n-d you” they gladly would have.

It was a performance designed to paint Abbott as prime ministerial – and it wasn’t a bad attempt.

While Abbott was predictably short on detail about how he would get the budget back to surplus – the government will rightly go after him for his in the coming days – he did at least make some big announcements.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been explicit that the government has been forced to make choices, and now voters will have to as well. In his budget reply Tony Abbott has tried to do a similar thing.

The headliner was a promise to ditch the carbon tax but keep the carbon tax compensation (tax cuts and pension increases) in place by finding $5 billion worth of savings.

This includes $1.1 billion by pushing back an increase to the superannuation guarantee, and dumping $1.1 billion of payments made to people on benefits that stemmed from the carbon tax assistance package.

Crucially, Abbott also said he’d keep the spending cuts outlined by the government on Tuesday, claiming that the “budget emergency” he says been created by the government game him no choice.

That’s a smart bit of politics – allowing the government to do some of the heavy lifting of spending cuts for him while making out the cuts are the work of an incompetent party.

If Swan’s budget was big on the much vaunted “Labor values”, then Abbott’s reply returned to a few themes that the Liberals hold dear, including refugees. Not only did Abbott promise to “stop the boats” but he also reiterated that a Coalition government would cut the humanitarian intake of refugees to save money.

There was even a hint that the Coalition (which introduced the GST) could look at it again, with Abbott promising a tax white paper within two years of the election.

In the days following the budget, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been explicit that the government has been forced to make choices. And now voters will have to as well. You can have the baby bonus or the Gonski education reforms but not both; you can have tax breaks for multinational companies or infrastructure projects but not both.

In his budget reply, Tony Abbott has tried to do a similar thing by emphasising the choices that his government would make: you can have the carbon tax or personal tax cuts but not both; you can have tax cuts or allow refugees in but not both.

The net result is that the differences between the two parties – which can often seem minuscule – are suddenly opening up.

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