Malcolm Fraser once famously said that life wasn’t meant to be easy, loosely quoting George Bernard Shaw.
Treasurer Joe Hockey hasn’t quite gone that far in describing his government’s approach to convincing voters it’s on the right fiscal track.
But he’s gone close.
“It’s damn hard to live within your means,” he told a NSW Liberals fundraiser in Sydney on Monday.
That was just after Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked about voter reaction to his government’s first budget.
“We never said it was going to be easy,” he said, a line repeated by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann a short time later.
Mr Fraser, Liberal prime minister between 1975-1983, some years after making what many thought was his political epitaph explained that its use was misconstrued by his political enemies.
What they did not understand was that you could not con the Australian public because for most of them life was not easy.
“For many it is damn difficult,” he said in 1994.
Twenty years on, Australians are saying much the same thing about the Abbott government budget.
Anger over budget measures boiled over on the weekend, with street marches through major cities and a meeting of premiers in Sydney vowing to fight $80 billion in school and hospital funding cuts.
It was also measured in two opinion polls, published on Monday, showing voter support for the government has collapsed just eight months into its first term.
Only one other budget in the past 25 years – Paul Keating’s 1993 effort which reversed the so-called L.A.W tax cuts – has managed a worse reception.
If the government is worried about the public reaction it’s not showing.
The coalition was elected not to take easy decisions but to take the hard and necessary ones, Mr Abbott said.
“And that’s what we’ve done.”
One hard decision the government would like the states to take is around the funding of schools and hospitals.
That might mean them asking the commonwealth to increase the rate and coverage of the GST, rather than just putting their hand out for federal funding.
What the government won’t countenance is a suggestion the states get a share of income tax.
“All it means is the federal government is going to increase taxes in another area, that’s all that means, Mr Hockey said.
The treasurer believes the jury is still out on his budget.
“I think as people actually do see the details, they will see, what we are doing is responsible and fair.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten disagrees, saying the angry reaction had put the government “on notice” to make the budget fairer.
The Senate, where the government lacks the numbers to push through its measures against opposition from Labor and the Greens, was the place to make that happen, he said.