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Dutton parrots ideas thoroughly rejected by Australians in budget reply

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Cartoon by Mark David/@markdavidcartoons

This week was a big week in federal politics, as budget weeks mostly are. Even by budget week standards, this one was a head-spinning doozy, writes Belinda Jones

ON TUESDAY night, Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers delivered his first Budget, ably assisted by Minister for Finance, Senator Katy Gallagher. It was the first Labor Budget in almost a decade.

Dr Chalmers is faced with a trillion dollars of inherited debt, rising inflation and cost of living pressures coupled with wages going backwards in real terms, as a result of a deliberate design feature of the former Morrison Government. Indeed, an unenviable position for any Treasurer to be in, there was never any possibility everyone would be happy with the outcome, the mess left by the former government for Chalmers was simply too big to be fixed in one budget. 

The Budget did not, and could not, meet the expectations of Australians weary of struggling with the curve balls life has been hurling at them like an automatic pitching machine. After years of the pandemic, drought and then fires and floods, as well as the hangover from the Morrison Government’s failed neo-liberal policies, Australians desperately wanted some kind of relief. 

It didn’t come.  And won’t for some time.

Of course, the Albanese Government could’ve gone on an irresponsible spending spree but they chose prudence over popularity because the latter would’ve exponentially increased the struggle of every Australian citizen and business by causing inflation to skyrocket. That would’ve led to accusations by the Opposition of irresponsible fiscal management by Labor and trumpeted by the usual conservative media journalists.   

Surprisingly, many of the typically conservative Australian media were outraged by this prudent approach, in fact, several seemed personally affronted by Dr Chalmers’ fiscal discipline. The ABC’s political editor, Andrew Probyn, normally known for his more conservative style of journalism, was up-in-arms at what he perceived as the Treasurer’s callous disregard for those struggling.

“Surely, there’s something else you can do for households?” he cried in one interview. Sentiments not to be found in his archived reports from Budget week 2014, back then Probyn was perfectly happy to accept the age of entitlement was over and Australians just had to deal with it. In the following years between that year and this, none can recall Probyn advocating for those on struggle street with quite so much enthusiasm as he displayed this week.

The ABC’s Q&A host, Stan Grant, was equally, if not more, infuriated on behalf of Australians about the failure of the Treasurer to spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave. Similar to Probyn, it was a side of Stan Grant we’ve never seen before, even with the most austere Budgets the Coalition Governments handed down over the last nine years. 

On Thursday night’s Q&A, live from Canberra, Grant promised to ask the hard questions of Senator Gallagher on Australians’ behalf but failed to declare that at least one of the questioners was a former staffer to two Liberal Senators. This added considerable weight to those speculating over his uncharacteristic motives of championing the poor and working class. It was a particularly unedifying display from the national broadcaster.

Earlier that same evening, the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, gave his first budget reply speech to the House of Representatives. In what sounded more like a virtue-signalling valedictory speech written by a Murdoch hack than a budget reply speech, Dutton discussed his log cabin story from humble beginnings. He failed to mention his meteoric rise to multi-millionaire status with an enviable business and property portfolio, including childcare centres which have received millions in government funding during his political career. 

The Leader of the Opposition suggested in his speech few ideas that may, one day, lead to a policy commitment from the Coalition. Most of those were already propagated by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the May 2022 Federal Election, which he failed to win a mandate for. 

You have to admire Dutton’s commitment to flogging a dead horse, he still wants to prosecute disgraced MP for Aston, Alan Tudge’s universally condemned idea of rewriting the Australian curriculum to suit his own sanitised, inaccurate version of history. 

The Opposition Leader also expressed his disdain for renewables, preferring to pursue another universally condemned idea of nuclear power. When pressed on ABC’s 7.30 by host Sarah Ferguson about which members of the Coalition have volunteered their electorates to be the site of small modular reactors, a clearly-rattled Dutton could not name one and bizarrely accused the veteran, respected journalist of parroting “the Labor line” in her questioning. 

Continuing the theme of universally condemned ideas, Dutton also rehashed the "home first, super second" idea. That doomed idea was pursued with reckless abandon against all sound economic advice by the former Member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, which may have contributed to his routing at the ballot box.

Dutton laid the anti-Labor rhetoric and tired one-liners on thick, borrowing many of Morrison’s cringeworthy slogans and a bit of his usual union-bashing for good measure. Quite a hypocritical position to adopt for the former union member.  There was nothing of substance in the Opposition Leader’s Budget Reply speech, not an ounce of positivity, no alternative plans for the economy, not a policy at all. 

It was a Budget reply in name only; the musings of a snowflake melting under the heat of the spotlight of leadership. 

There was nothing in Dutton’s speech that would make any member of the Government nervous at all, every argument, every idea he offered in his Budget reply speech has been heard before, debated before and defeated before; rejected by experts and the electorate. 

Dutton’s Budget reply was a roadmap to further political oblivion for the Coalition, hurtling down a one-way street with no prospect of a U-turn in the foreseeable future. By contrast, Chalmers' Budget, while not perfect, certainly has the country heading in the right direction.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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