Minister for Finance, Penny Wong has released an eight page booklet outlining the ALP’s costings of the opposition’s policy pledges entitled Pre-Budget Deficit: Tony Abbott and the Coalition. Of course, the public doesn’t expect all such pledges to be implemented, but if they were, Labor predicts that the Coalition would put the budget $9 million into deficit, in 2012-13. The figure does not include savings the Coalition has promised to find: it is to be noted that the Coalition has failed to point out where these savings were to be made.
Wong argues Labor was “forced” to produce the report, because of Abbott’s failure to outline his intentions for the federal budget, if he were to be elected. The report was produced from publicly available figures from the Treasury and other government departments. It’s easy to interpret headings such as “A $70 Billion Black hole”, with a tone and wording that leaves no doubt of the direction at the Australia Public. Labor has seized the opportunity to reinforce public doubt about the Coalition’s budget intentions.
Joe Hockey fought back on The Bolt Report by insinuating that Wong is incompetent in the role of Finance Minister and saying “quite frankly, we’re not going to take any lectures on numbers or on fiscal prudence from Penny Wong.” While the Coalition may choose not to listen, the Australian public is. Wong is doing the media rounds, appearing on television news shows and speaking to newspapers. The ALP is getting the word out to the voters that Abbott is economically reckless.
Andrew Robb has gone as far as to call the release “fictional”. The Coalition are arguing that it is an attempt by the Government to cover up their own budget issues – the “nearly $100 billion in unfunded or hidden commitments that they have made” as Robb puts it. However without figures of their own, the Coalition has little to argue with, with other than petty insults.
Wong has challenged the Coalition to prove her wrong – “if Andrew Robb, Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott say this is wrong, tell us where it’s wrong, tell Australians where it’s wrong, tell us what they’re not funding, tell us which savings they are going to make.” This challenge has been laid down in the full knowledge that the Coalition has no figures with which it can mount a quick and factual response for the public. All the while, the public have begun to associate Abbott with a ‘deficit’ – a dirty word.
Currently, commentators are suggesting that the only known aspect of Abbot’s budget is that he has promised to set up an audit commission into government spending, were he to be elected.
Peter Costello once remarked of Abbott in government that he is ”never one to be held back by the financial consequences of decisions.” This is exactly how the ALP report intends to show Abbott and how the ALP want Australians to see Abbott. In essence the report is a political weapon and yet another occasion when the words ‘deficit’ is thrown around in the public sphere with no explanation of what it really means for the Australian Economy. Politically ‘deficit’ is a dirty word, whereas in economic reality it is not.