Let us consider the pros and cons of Scott Morrison. We owe him a vote of thanks for Lara Bingle’s prominence. She was just another glamour model from The Shire until Morrison, then at the helm of Tourism Australia, recognised her enormous talents and made her the star of those “Where the bloody hell are you?” ads. True, the campaign failed – despite her enormous assets. But if you like your sheilas blonde, bogan and big-hearted, well, you owe Morrison a dip of the lid.
Then there was Operation Sovereign Borders. They said it couldn’t be done. But Morrison succeeded. True, he had the entire armed forces at his disposal (plus assorted cloak-and-dagger types), but he stopped the boats.
And so we come to his current role of Treasurer and starring turn last night. There, the results have been more mixed. The ADF can’t help you broaden your revenue base even if you send them to annexe New Zealand. That sort of thing only adds to the deficit. And that’s where the problem lies. We have an on-water incident – or, rather, a government all at sea on treacherous tides of red ink.
A deficit of more than $37 billion for next financial year and a course that plots no return to surplus until 2020-21, a destination actually not shown on the official charts but which lies past the parts where the grizzled ancient mariners of the good ship Treasury have scrawled the annotation “Here be monsters” is not all that reassuring.
Yet Morrison continues to sail on his own merry way. Government spending is expected to remain at just under 26% of GDP next financial year and still be over the quarter mark in four years time. Even Wayne Swan managed to steer a better course on a few occasions.
Morrison was left exposed in his very first interview after his budget speech. “You say you’ve made enormous strides,” Leigh Sales began. “When you came into power your side of politics was outraged by the scale of government spending, it was 25.6% of GDP. This year it is 25.8 per cent. The best you can forecast is 25.2 per cent in four years’ time. That’s a negligible impact for a Government that’s promised to rein in spending.”
Came the response, “Well, there are a lot of commitments.”
That invites the riposte to Morrison’s boast “We’ve made enormous strides over the last three years” of “oh, yeah? You and whose army?”
A highlight of last night’s speech was the lifting of the $80,000 tax threshold, a move Morrison promised would save 500,000 voters from bracket creep.
It might – but it might also cost him the election. Cautiously conservative low- to middle-income earners bringing home just a little less get nothing. This demographic has little time for fashionable fripperies. They’re too busy counting pennies. They just want a government that shares their values and gets on with the job. The federal ALP has struggled to win their vote for the past 20 years. Kevin Rudd convinced them he was a safe pair of hands. They swung to Labor virtually everywhere in 2007. They started to return to the Coalition in 2010 and by 2013 were firmly back in the camp.
A sandwich-and-milkshake tax cut for these people might not have been much, but it would have been something. Instead, Morrison has given Labor a gift.
And a final observation. Among the dozens of media releases last night was one from Twitter that excitedly announced, in the manner of a three-year-old who has just seen someone on a unicycle, that Tweets during the budget had peaked at 790 per minute. There are estimated to be at least three million Twitter users in Australia. Seven hundred and ninety into three million … well, you understand how representative that is.
The most re-tweeted message of the evening, the statement continued, came from Adam Bandt.
Proof positive that Twitter is strictly for the birds.