Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Beazley's Budget Reply

It's clear to whom Kim Beazley was aiming his rather elegaic and evocative Budget Reply speech - the group whom he had mentioned twice within the first minute (and countless times later on): Middle Australia. Beazley's correct in identifying this group - the ones receiving the smallest tax cut in the multi billion dollar budget - are also the ones who both slogged their guts out to bring this prosperity into being, and will be the ones charged with the task of continuing it.

I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by this speech. It was clever, muscular, and direct, with a simple message: work hard, and you will be rewarded with economic prosperity, fair working conditions, and support for your children. At the outset, Beazley said his speech was for the public rather than the politicians or media, and the galleries (yes, admittedly a rent-a-crowd, no doubt) were clearly appreciative, with several announcements drawing applause.

As has been widely rumoured, commitments centred heavily on family and education. They included:

- $200m for the 260 childcare centres at schools, $200m and the foreshadowing of more childcare announcements as the elections approach;

- The abolition of TAFE fees for traditional trades, an estimated 60,000 places;

- The establishment of `skills accounts' with a starting balance of $800 to help families save for skills-based education courses

- $1200 towards the education of childcare workers for TAFE or equivalent courses

- More school-based apprenticeships.

- Not surprisingly - a commitment to roll back the WorkChoices legislation.

- A national broadband computer network twenty five times faster than the current network, delivered in partnership with the private sector. (This is one area that really slipped under the radar: where was IT in the Budget?)

- The formation of an independent body, Infrastructure Australia, to de-politicise the construction of infrastructure.

Beazley's suggestions that Australia could be leading the world in innovation, skills and technology had it not been the only Western country not to cut investment in these crucial areas were well taken, as were his comments on what I consider one of the great bugbears of the Howard era, its appalling backpedalling on the environment. `Nation-building' is an over-used and over-abused term, yet it's something our current government is not doing, whether in an economic or cultural sense.

Peter Costello's disgraceful behaviour during the speech should not go without mention. At not one point but several, he was seen apparently ostentatiously feigning sleep. If Beazley had done that on Tuesday, it would have been on every front page and Piers Akerman would have been braying for his blood. Will the same result from Costello's behaviour? It certainly should, but probably won't.

There's been a lot of talk about the Budget Reply being Beazley's litmus test given his recent poor showing in polls, an idea I thought unfair, and doubly so given there's only so much that can be expected in a reply to a Budget which throws money at the public left, right and centre. There was no way the Opposition could - or indeed, should - have matched the extravagant pledges of the Government. However, if it was a test, I have to say Beazley passed very well. In warning us that the Howard Government is not building a nation hardy enough to weather the future, Beazley was essentially asking the public the same question John Howard asked at the commencement of the 2004 election: who do you trust? In laying out what he described as his `pact with Middle Australia', Beazley looked the best bet in ages. I'll be eager to see how the Reply is received, because it deserves to be received well.


At 4:01 am, Anonymous Naomi said...

Menzies did all right pitching at 'the forgotten people' for all that time. Howard recast them as battlers, but we know his idea of battler is pretty broad.

I reckon most Aussies like to think of themselves as middle, even if they are bottom or top, so it's a good pitch. Good announcements. Nice and simple.

At 9:25 am, Anonymous Guy said...

Good point about Costello falling asleep - I noticed that but it didn't register at the time.

I agree with you - I think it was a good speech. I hope it gets the coverage it deserves, but I'm sure it won't. There is no denying that given the right medium, Beazley can be a much more effective communicator than Costello or Howard. His speech was much more evocative and visionary than Costello's, even before you dig into the detail of what each side are offering.

And the leadership? Polls, schmolls, I reckon. The Beazer deserves one last roll of the dice, and his fairly strong performance last night only confirms that.

At 12:17 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

I wonder what difference a good old fashioned visionary speech makes these days? Once upon a time, a good speech could have a huge impact, especially when this was the main way people received information from their leaders, rather than in a constant stream of soundbites. To me, the way information is presented is indivisible from what I think of that information; possibly, for the majority of people (dare I say, Middle Australia), they're much happier to watch Dancing With The Stars and then skim through a dot point list of the tax cuts they've received in the paper the next day.

Such is life in the PowerPoint era ...

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