11 June 2014

Woes and Inexperience of the Budgetary Kind

The Abbott government has a huge issue that it needs to resolve. In fact, it is really two issues. The first is to try and convince the Palmer United Party senators (with Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party in tow) and other independent senators to pass a hugely controversial budget. The second is to sell this ‘austerity’ type budget to the electorate. So far the Government has not succeeded with either of these issues. 

Even if the bills pass the Senate, and therefore becomes law, it is expected that there would still be a lot of hostility from the public. How can the government turn this around and effectively sell the specifics of the budget to an already sceptical electorate? If we look at it another way, how did the Government dig this huge ‘hole’ for themselves in the first place? 

To answer this it is best to look at a couple of sporting analogies. With the FIFA World Cup breathing down our necks, I thought it would be best to start with an analogy of the football type. 

A football manager has to take into consideration a number of factors when selecting a team. It is not just a case of choosing 11 players and 5 substitutes. Managers and the coaching staff would have spent many hours studying the opposition and working on appropriate tactics. Especially in relation to how not to concede goals. They would also be looking for their opponents ‘Achilles Heel’ to see if that can be used to their advantage. 

 Aside from this, the weather conditions would also play a role in team selection. For the FIFA World Cup, some matches are being played in the tropical region of Brazil. This means that heat and humidity will take a toll on the players. A good manager would ensure that his team are fully equipped to handle this. Finally, on the day of the game, a Manager will pick the best team to play the opposition and hopefully win. 

Similar considerations impact cricket, and indeed all sports. A cricket coach, together with the captain, will firstly look at the wicket and assess what it is likely to do over the next 4 or 5 days of the game. They would factor in that, for example, Sydney is traditionally known as a spinners wicket, whilst Perth is seen as a fast bowlers paradise. Hence team selection will be made accordingly. In addition, the state of the weather prior to the coin toss will have an impact on whether to bat or bowl. A cloudy day could influence a captain to bowl first rather than to bat. 

Politics is a similar beast to sport. Every government has an agenda that they want to implement. Some of their policies can be seen to be ‘controversial’ whilst others will be universally accepted. What the government has to do is to gauge public opinion and work out the best strategy to sell the message to the public. To do this, there would be discussions within the cabinet and advisers as to how to effectively implement their policies. Remember, if you can get the public onside then more than half of your budget battles are won. 

 Incumbent governments tend to issue a ‘nasty’ budget first up knowing that they can offer ‘sweeteners’ in the succeeding two budgets. 

The Abbott government, and especially the Treasurer Joe Hockey, decided to paint a picture of ‘doom and gloom’ prior to Budget Day. Leaking details of parts of the budget prior to its reading in parliament is not a new thing. All governments do this. The idea is to mentally attune the public to the ‘bad’ parts of the budget. 

The other aspect of the budget is to sell it once it has been read in parliament. Generally the Prime Minister and the Treasurer will go on a type of media ‘roadshow’ espousing the reasons behind the budget decisions. Favourable media can certainly help with selling the message. 

So where did it all go wrong for Tony Abbott and the Coalition? Obviously, the ‘all guns blazing’ approach of the government in relation to the budget has backfired. It is simply too harsh for a first budget. Also, continually blaming the ALP for the budgetary decisions wears thin after the first 100 or so times. It would appear that the government didn’t do their research correctly and have totally underestimated public reaction. 

In my opinion a large part of the failure of the budget has to sit quite firmly with Peta Credlin - the Chief of Staff. Peta Credlin is reputed to have a stranglehold on all policy decisions that the government makes. She is the conduit for the Prime Minister, the cabinet and back-benchers. Ministers, for example, have to get her permission just to undertake a media interview. So it can be seen that Peta Credlin has a lot of power and influence as well as being the Prime Minister’s confidante. 

 It would be natural to assume that Credlin played a major part in the shaping of policies for the budget. As such, she has totally overlooked the reaction from the public. If we look at the earlier sporting analogies it could be said that she did not do her ‘homework’ in relation to the anger from the public. If this is the case then it clearly shows Credlin’s naivety and possible inexperience. 

So where are we at the moment? Well, we have a government who cannot pass all of their bills in a fairly hostile senate without ‘watering down’ a number of policies or, heaven forbid from their point of view, scrapping a few of the controversial ones. Given the theme of the budget, Tony Abbott could go for a Double Dissolution of parliament but, based on the opinion polls, the Coalition could end up out of government. The bleak economic picture that the government has painted does not give them much room to manoeuvre anyway. Whatever happens one thing is sure, the next few months in parliament are going to be far from boring! 

 Finally, could it be that Peta Credlin is out of her league as the Chief of Staff to the government? How many times have we heard of promising footballers and cricketers who just couldn’t take the next step up despite their ability? This is reminiscent of the scene where the coach goes up to the young budding sport star and says “look son, you are just not going to make the grade. I am sorry”. Maybe this is an apt description that fits Ms Credlin. Only time will tell.

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