When the Federal Opposition responded to the Budget with calls of “Class Warfare”, many of us closed our eyes and hummed old Abba favourites very loudly to ourselves. Tony Abbott’s Budget Reply speech barely addressed the Budget, other than to suggest that the Opposition would fund more language classes and make vague promises about fairness, and mock Wayne Swan's attempt to deliver the Holy Grail of Budgets, the Capital-S-Surplus. As a response, it was entirely without guts.
“The last thing the Coalition wants to do is start a class war, a post code war”, declared Abbott, entirely without irony, as he set about trying to start a class war. Then he suggested that the Government should be governing for all Australians. Again, the lack of irony was delicious.
Protip: Next time you want to start a class war, take a look at the Occupy Movement. At least they can use numbers that add up.
It wasn’t only the Opposition that accused the Government of Class Warfare. Dennis Shanahan, Political Editor of the Australian was happy to take up arms against the imaginary war:Mr Shanahan has completely avoided the awkward detail that the Labor movement itself is built on an ideological foundation of challenging the class structure. If the ALP is seen as playing a benevolent Robin Hood against a backdrop of ongoing economic uncertainty overseas, why is that bad for Labor?
"After Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan invoked class-war rhetoric to sell the budget, it was well received by families earning less than $90,000 a year, while more people than last year, 18 per cent, said they would be personally "better off" as a result of the payments.
"But the cash handouts to families on less than $150,000, some sole parents and the unemployed have damaged Labor's economic standing. Mr Swan's fifth budget was deemed the worst for the economy since John Dawkins' disastrous 1993 budget after the election of the Keating government."
The Government spin on the Budget was that everyone – not just the rich – should benefit from the resources boom, and this was a way of ensuring that we all get a share. Surely this is the opposite of class warfare, in that it seeks to minimise the class structure that divides the well-off and obscenely rich from those who live from pay cheque to pay cheque, or worse. And isn’t that the ALP mantra? “A Fair Go For All Australians”?
If means-testing of government handouts in the middle class and McMansion mortgage belts is seen as starting a war with those who already have their five-bedroom Tuscan style family home in the outer suburbs, so be it.
Yet somewhere around the end of last week, conventional wisdom was that “the people” (which rarely seems to include me) would fall into line behind Mr Abbott’s team. Julia Gillard’s jibes at Abbott and Hockey’s North Shore insularity and Wayne Swan’s Malicious Budget would be rejected, class warfare proven, insults hurled and punishment dished out via a further drop in the ALP’s approval numbers.
It didn’t happen.
According to the Essential Poll released this week, just 28% of Aussies agreed with the Federal Opposition’s claim that the Gillard Government - and Treasurer Swan in particular – are conducting class warfare against Australia’s richest people and most successful companies. Even more remarkable is the finding that the income level of the respondents was not a particularly strong indicator of response. People with incomes over $1600/week were only slightly more likely to favour the Opposition’s position. So, does this mean that the electorate is chiefly happy with the budget, and that the Opposition’s class warfare spin was off the mark?
Yes and no.
The big surprise was probably Tony Abbott, but not directly because of his unsuccessful class warfare attack. That was just the latest in a long series of political assaults. Attacking, criticizing, belittling the government are all part of the role of an Opposition party.
But it’s not the whole kit and caboodle of being an effective Opposition. The electorate is starting to want more from this Opposition than just a never-ending parade of disapproving grunts and mathematical impossibilities. We don’t need Abbott’s team of ministerial goons to point out that the ALP Government is in trouble. We can see that. Now, we need the Opposition to prove to us that they are a credible alternative Government.
As was the case last year, Mr Abbott used his entire Budget Reply speech as free media time in which to kick the government from every possible angle, but this year, it failed. Australians wanted to hear what the Coalition had to offer as an alternative budget. We needed to feel confident that in the face of years of economic absurdity from Abbott, Hockey and Robb, the Coalition Treasury and Finance teams could produce a credible alternative budget, not just some vague promises about fairness and language classes.
Instead, when asked to explain why the Government’s Education handout is different to his own Baby Bonus handout, the answer was “They just are.”
Noted blogger Peter Brent said in his Mumble blog in the Australian
Today voters want grownups in leadership positions.
With their undergraduate, one-dimensional “us against the toffs” rhetoric, Swan and Gillard present the opposite.
They’ve made Tony Abbott a statesman.
No-one has made Abbott a statesman, nor have they turned around the fortunes of the careworn government. The Opposition’s failure to mount a substantial response to what was a pretty average budget is not going to be the One Big Thing that turns around the fortunes of the Labor Government. I don’t believe such a political marvel exists.
It might, however, force the Opposition to reassess their approach, and convince them to offer more than just a dogmatic black hole with nothing to offer beyond “we’re not them.”