Abbott & Hockey Budget Confusion

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    I have been wondering if I was hearing right, it seemed to me Abbott was saying he would not go ahead with polices that would hurt families meaning dropping the GP co payment but Hockey seemed to contradict that.

    Well not sure anyone knows what is happening and what direction we are going

    Joe Hockey's tenure as Treasurer seems intrinsically linked with that of Tony Abbott, but when it comes to the upcoming budget the pair don't seem to be singing from the same song sheet, writes Barrie Cassidy.

    To hear the rhetoric out of Canberra, you would think it was Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey locked in a tussle for the leadership.

    The two of them are diametrically opposed on the strategy that should underpin the May budget ... and they don't seem to care who knows it.

    Yet Hockey's tenure seems to be intrinsically linked with that of Abbott. He lasts only as long as the leader does. One is dependent on the other. Self interest alone should encourage a meeting of minds.

    The Prime Minister told a news conference on Monday:
    It was a bold and ambitious budget last year. With the wisdom of hindsight it was perhaps too bold and too ambitious. We did, with the wisdom of hindsight, bite off more than we could chew.
    But I've listened, I've learnt, and I've changed, and the Government will change with me.
    Yet the next day when Leigh Sales asked Hockey on 7.30 whether the Government is "persisting with those policies", Hockey said:
    Well, we are ... because we have no choice, Leigh. We have no choice. Economic growth is not going to deliver a surplus.
    Then on Wednesday, when Hockey was asked by Neil Mitchell on 3AW whether he could increase taxes or cut spending without hurting people, he hedged his bets:
    We are trying to do it without that sort of impact, but I think it is fundamentally unfair for us to have a lifestyle today that our children will never have.
    Neil, we knew what we were doing last year was going to be unpopular but we have to do what is right for our country.
    Too many people in this building are playing too much politics and not enough focusing on policy.
    Yet on Thursday, on the same program, Abbott promised that in the next budget "we are not going to try to rescue the Commonwealth Budget at the expense of the household budget". Unequivocal. No ifs, no buts.

    All this since the leadership team was on Monday - in the words of Scott Morrison - taken to with baseball bats.
    Now business is becoming increasingly vocal, condemning the mixed messages and demanding more policy certainty.

    The Commonwealth Bank chief executive, Ian Narev, said:
    ...we don't have a coherent policy picture of the job-creating environment that is going to give business the appetite to (borrow) a bit more to create the jobs.
    I am not saying if that is not fixed in the next week or two, we are on the verge of an economic downturn, but by definition, policies take a while to work and the time to get those policies articulated and understood is now.
    Yet just to complicate matters even further, there is now a new spirit of backbench consultation arising out of the attempted spill of the leadership positions. If that is taken seriously, then there is sure to be a drift away from Hockey's position.

    Can anyone see the majority of backbenchers knocking down the Prime Minister's door, demanding tough, necessary cuts to bring the budget back to surplus? Or will they be saying, "Do what you have to do, but don't cut x, y and z, because if you do, that'll be the end of me"?

    It's a recipe for short-termism; for politically popular fixes.
    And then when the backbenchers are done, the latest proposal is that the opposition be invited into the process in "a spirit of bipartisanship".

    The Financial Review in its editorial Thursday argued:
    Bipartisanship on key reforms would be politically difficult, perhaps excruciating. But if Mr Hockey and Mr Bowen are both sincere in their analysis of the problem, then bipartisan compromise is both necessary and possible. Unless someone else has a better idea.
    That's a lot of consultation to happen between now and May, not forgetting the doctors who now get to decide Medicare policy.

    And this is the budget that is now effectively a survival document for Abbott and by extension Hockey.
    All the government has to do is raise enough revenue and make enough cuts to reverse a rapid trajectory towards higher debt and deficit; while at the same ensuring "nobody is hurt in the making of this budget".

    Just as well good government started Tuesday.

    Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of the ABC program Insiders. He writes a weekly column for The Drum.
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