EDITORIAL THURSDAY 20.05.10.
Following last week’s federal budget, the opposition leader Tony Abbott presented his budget reply speech last Thursday. At that time, Tony Abbott promised that a coalition government would match or better Wayne Swan’s timetable for returning the budget to surplus, but he would not identify the specific cost savings that he would use to achieve this. Instead, he promised that Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey would spell out the details at this week’s address to the National Press Club. It turns out that must have been one of those unscripted moments that we should not have taken at face value.
When Joe Hockey fronted the Press Club yesterday he delivered a speech which was widely reported as being passionate, but lacking in actual detail. Where was the promised list of cost savings measures that a coalition government would impose? Not in Joe Hockey’s speech, and not in the answers he was able to give to journalists after the speech. In fact, the journalists really had no specific questions to ask because they were only just given the details in printed form after the speech, handed out by Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb. One journalist was heard to confront the Shadow Treasurer and accuse him of evading scrutiny by dumping what he called a “bowl of soup” on them without time to digest the contents.
Afterwards, Mr. Hockey admitted that in hindsight it would have been better to hand out the printed material before the speech rather than after, but surely the best course would have been to live up to the expectations created by Tony Abbott’s promise and actually make some announcements in the speech itself. But of course, I’m forgetting that we are not supposed to believe everything that Tony Abbott says. No wonder Joe Hockey isn’t sure of what he can and can’t announce when he’s giving a speech. But never mind that, what exactly is on the list of the opposition’s proposed cost cuts?
Ultimately, it has been revealed that the opposition proposes to save $46.7 billion over four years by cutting such programs as computers for schools, training for teachers, and training for the trades, along with abolishing the planned National Broadband Network and selling off Medibank Private. The problem is that only about $12 billion would actually come off the budget bottom line because the broadband network is capital expenditure which means that it has nothing to do with the recurrent outgoings of the budget and no impact on the bottom line. The money is an investment not an expense, and is projected to show a reasonable return to the government before actually being sold off in the future. Equally, selling Medibank Private is not income, it’s the disposal of an asset, and once it’s gone it’s gone forever.
Kevin Rudd may well stand accused of leading a government that is “all talk and no action”, but so far Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey haven’t offered anything of substance as an alternative.