Forget the substance, what about the style? The “optics”, as political spinmeisters like to say, have been awful for the Abbott Government over an extraordinary budget fortnight. Here are some of the, err, highlights.
Cuban Cigar Crisis
Friday 9 May
Clever what they can do on Photoshop these days. Nice idea, planting a pair of fat cigars in the hands of the Treasurer and his valiant sidekick as they strike a smug, almost post-coital pose after signing off on the budget. A diverting piece of 1920s class warfare imagery by some leftist agitator, no doubt. What’s next, bowler hats, spats a la Stanley Melbourne Bruce?
Then it gradually dawned. This image was REAL. Tory politicians really do puff on cigars after proverbially screwing the poor and sparing the rich.
Don’t expect to see Smokin’ Joe with a cigar in his mitts anytime soon, but cartoonists are certain to ensure that it remains his permanent personal motif for the remainder of his political career.
Budget night beat up
Tuesday 13 May
Hockey walked out of the budget and into a left-right combination, and it had nothing to do with Bill Shorten and Her Majesty’s Opposition.
First came 7.30 and the formidable Sarah Ferguson, who cut straight through on the issue of broken promises and new taxes.
Ferguson: “They’re still taxes. I don’t need to teach you, Treasurer, what a tax is. You know that a co-payment and a levy and a tax are all taxes by any other name.”
Hockey: “Of course they are.”
Ferguson: “Am I correct?”
Amazingly, things only got tougher over at Nine.
Just as when he ambushed Julia Gillard at the National Press Club over her broken deal with Kevin Rudd, Oakes was privy to knowledge that put him in a position of power over his unsuspecting subject.
Hockey was completely taken aback when Oakes opened by asking why Hockey was dancing to This Will Be The Best Day Of My Life with his wife before he went into deliver the budget.
A crestfallen Hockey, his “talking points” shredded, could not disagree with Oakes’ devastating observation that it would not be the best day in the life of “the unemployed, the sick, the welfare recipients hit by the budget”.
Paul Barry on Media Watch said it was an unfair ambush. Perhaps, but it was compelling television.
Hashtag overload, #qanda
Monday 19 May
Hockey faced the music – alone – on Q&A.
Any suggestion that he would be spared by the crowd in Sydney’s mythologised western suburbs (home to the ‘Howard Battlers’) was quickly dispelled.
It was not so much the anger that would have worried Coalition apparatchiks, but the ridicule when the Treasurer said that no “direct promises” were broken.
The broader reaction was so voluminous that it blew up the on-screen twitter feed, 65,000 tweets smashing the previous record. One suspects that not all the missing missives would have been positive.
Wednesday 21 May
This time it was the PM in the hot seat.
Stella, a Liberal voter from Geelong, took the new ball, but was surprisingly hostile, entreating Tony Abbott to provide a straight answer on the question of broken promises (13:15 on the audio below). Suffice to say, the response from the prime minister proved self-fulfilling.
Then … the wink.
Not schooled in the ways of Freud or whoever is in favour these days, we offer no analysis of what Abbott was thinking when listening to pensioner and part-time phone sex worker ‘Gloria’, other than to make two observations: Faine dispatched the explanation from the PM’s office over the mid-wicket boundary; and, prejudices being what they are, Sarah Hanson-Young’s reflexive shriek of “creep” was far from a lone voice, especially among women.
Wednesday 21 May
At first blush, revelations about the $60,000 scholarship for Abbott’s daughter Frances seemed grossly unfair to the PM and his daughter. But closer examination suggests that the scholarship – awarded by Liberal Party donor and Abbott friend Les Taylor, the chairman of the Whitehouse Institute of Design – was something of a “captain’s choice” and not available to the average Dick or Jane.
Again, a bad look, particularly when families across the country are worried that deregulation of university fees will make a tertiary education unaffordable for their children. Yet another indication, as with the incongruously generous parental leave scheme, that the Age of Entitlement is not over for all.
Of course, none of the above is as important as the broken promises or the disproportionate burden that will fall on those who can least manage it.
But “optics” do matter in politics. Combined with the broken promises and the hit to the hip pocket of middle Australia, they create a potent political mix, the culmination of which might well be a one-term government.