The Federal Budget is whipping up a storm of controversy like few other federal budgets have been able to do in recent memory. We know that it’s particularly harsh on young people and the disadvantaged, and that its overall goal is surplus at any cost. With the dust finally beginning to settle from the Abbott Government side of the fence, the time has come for official responses to be given. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten exercised his right-of-reply and delivered his Budget Response speech last night, and after months of meek appearances and half-hearted opposition, he finally woke up. And still managed to say very little.
In a speech that, realistically, was merely an exercise in listing the – already well trodden in – bad points of the budget, Shorten fundamentally declared Labor’s intention to function in opposition in precisely the same manner that Abbott did: a lot of shouting, a lot of negativity, a lot of political muckraking, but in a very controlled manner, and without making the error of offering positive help or alternate policy.
Whether that’s realistically achievable is debatable at best. Say what you will about Tony Abbott‘s methods in opposition, but the man took the lowest form of political bastardry and turned it into an artform, with he the Monet of slinging shit. Bill Shorten is a tenured Union official, but he is no parliamentary bulldog. The iron will to sustain such cult-like negativity over the time period required is arguably beyond him.
That’s not to say that, in the interim, it won’t be effective. Labor, and Shorten, have flagged every intention to collaborate with the Greens in the Senate to stonewall many of the Government’s key budgetary points of issue, including Newstart reforms, GP co-payments, and University fee deregulation. In essence, it could force the Government to grind out legislative reforms line-by-line, both in the current Senate, and the new look one set to take office in July.
The Greens, for their part, are largely behind Labor in presenting this unified front against the Federal Budget and the Abbott Government. Greens leader Christine Milne declared as much during her own Budget reply speech.
Even the threat of Double Dissolution, and a subsequent early election, is being bandied about already. But, in perhaps Shorten’s most convincing passage of speech, Labor seems – at least on paper – ready for the fight. “If you want an election, try us. If you think Labor is too weak, try us.“
The response, overall, was an exercise of attitude. Shorten derided the Government’s radical savings plans, without once offering alternate solutions of his own. Sure, seeing Abbott on the other side of the floor cop some of his own medicine from an opposition was momentarily satisfying, but is this a method that can be sustainably adopted by the Labor party? Probably not. Particularly not for an entire term. And what’s worse, it risks wasting the abilities of senior frontbenchers such as Anthony Albanese, whose calm demeanour and balanced legislative responses are, for better or worse, a rose in an otherwise expansive thorn bush; the Malcolm Turnbull of this administration.
The bottom line is that mobilising voters against Tony Abbott is fine, and will work. But convincing a nation to vote out a Government without presenting a viable alternate front is unlikely to work again.
After all, fool them once…
Photo: Stefan Postles via Getty Images.