A subtle shift for Abbott's razor gang

Have you heard the one about the government that spent a nation into deficit? Chances are if you own a television, radio or computer you have. And for that you can thank the federal Coalition.

The Opposition’s pre-campaign campaign message has been simple: the Gillard government can’t be trusted as economic managers and they are fiscally reckless.

“Reckless,” “wasteful” and “irresponsible” are just a small sample of the Coalition’s seemingly infinite thesauri of terms to describe the government’s spending. As a strategy, the Opposition’s implanting of the idea of reckless government spending looks set to carry it into the Lodge in September, but the consequences of their crusade that will loom large over a first-term Abbott government.

So integral to the Opposition strategy was “waste” that following the 2010 election, Tony Abbott appointed Jamie Briggs, to head up a Committee on the Scrutiny of Government Waste.

The work of the committee has been evident in the Coalition message almost from the time of its inception, but it has become even more so in the run up to what is expected to be a bitterly contested, but ultimately one-sided election in September. Rather ironically though, the crowning achievement of the committee is simply its existence.

Controlling the message is a lot easier when you control, or at least influence the discourse. Where Labor cries ‘slash and burn’ and ‘cut to the bone’, the Coalition’s subtler approach has certainly been more effective.

Mr Briggs told Business Spectator the committee was born out of a need to rein in a government “with a spending problem, both in inefficient spending and just the fact that they spend too much.”

But the Coalition’s scrutiny of government waste will come at a price, and may become a double-edged sword. As Opposition policy, blame works fantastically well. In government it is far less becoming.

That is why budget week has seen a slight softening in the Coalition’s rhetoric of blame – not hugely evident, though noticeable. Tony Abbott seems to have woken up to the limitations, or rather, repercussions, of the message. In running such an effective and relentless campaign on government waste, the Opposition are hitching the reputation of a first-term Abbott government to their frugality.

Following the budget Mr Abbott said the government was “booby-trapping” the economy, while former Prime Minister John Howard has said the budget wasn’t so much focused on the future of the economy as much as it was “politically disadvantaging the Opposition”.

This is the razor-thin line the Opposition will need to walk between now and the election.

It’s a tweak to the message, more than an overhaul. An addendum that says the government has been reckless in their spending, but the fiscal environment holds its own challenges as well. And if it works, it will be a factor in ensuring Tony Abbott isn’t one term prime minister. Waste scrutineer in chief Mr Briggs knows that.

“We are in a difficult environment… we are undoubtedly now going to government with a massive debt, we have deficits as far as they eye can see,” he says.

“We don’t believe their claim they can get back to surplus, it’s based on assumptions, which are just fairyland stuff.”

Mr Briggs says there is “no question” a first-term Abbott government will be held to a high bar on spending.

“One of the key priorities is to live within our means, then everything else falls off that. So people will hold us to account if we are elected. Increasingly, you’ll see how we intend to do that.”

Tony Abbott’s budget reply went some way to showing how the Coalition “intends to do that”. More than anything it revealed the Coalition’s trap door for use in case of the party’s own ‘budget emergency’.

“Change won’t come overnight but a Coalition government will do what’s needed to strengthen economic growth and prosperity,” he said.

“The treasurer spent much of his speech complaining that he was the victim of a sudden collapse in government revenue.”

In setting an unprecedented benchmark on spending scrutiny, the Coalition may have created a rod for its back, one that a Labor opposition will be constantly watching for.

The recent tweak suggests they are aware of the risk. With it, Tony Abbott has articulated his desire not just to ride the wave of anti-Labor sentiment into government but to maintain that momentum beyond a first term.

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Considering the previous Liberal lead Govt was only able to cute spending for one year I have my doubts about how much wasteful spending they'll be willing to cut back on.

I wish Abbott's razor gang would cut negative gearing for property speculators. We need a fairer tax system.

Frans you may get your fairer tax system but those seeking a roof over their head won't thank you....dig a little deeper and you will discover why successive Governments don't agree with your thinking.

Those who whine about negative gearing forget that the interest deduction for the borrower is matched by the additional taxable income of the lender and that the ability to gear means more properties get built creating jobs for buiders and an increase to the supply of rental housing.Cutting out negative gearing will be detrimental to the economy overall.

The second Elephant in the room:
Will the Libs give the Public Service pride in doing the job?
Don't bad mouth the Service and Canberra as thought it is axiomatic.
One way to start the economising is to ensure we have the finest
Public Service in the world. Give them pride in making sure they are
the best and not wasteful. Reduce the number of private staff for each Minister.
Shane McNeice Toorak

What amazes me is the huge number of Australian's completely taken in by Tony Abbott's brilliant idea that cutting the Carbon and Mining Taxes will reduce household living expenses for Australian people.HOW ????????? This WHOPPER is right up there with the Howard' government's beauty "working families in Australia have never been better off."
Firstly HOW will cutting a Mining tax that has only made $200 million in revenue so far cut the living expenses of 23 million people ? Doing the math's I've worked out I'll be 10 cent's a year better off !!!!!!! Gee,I can hardly wait !
Secondly how is reducing the Carbon Tax going to leave my family better off ?
In W.A. where I live ,the Carbon Tax impost is only 10%,some of which is already being reimbursed.IN THE MEANTIME Colin Barnett has raised electricity prices 66% in the last 5 years,water prices 50% in the last 5 years and gas prices 45% in the last 5 years.
Removing a 10% Carbon Tax is not going to reduce my household expenses one iota,especially when Colin Barnett has already told West Australian's they can expect yearly increases in water,electrcity and gas prices as long as he is Premier of W.A. ! ALREADY this year Colin Barnett has raised electricity prices 4% and water prices 8%.Thats an increase of 12% on two household neccessities in ONE YEAR.
It doesn't matter in W.A. if Tony Abbott dumps the Carbon Tax for small or large businesses either.They are ALL having to endure Colin Barnett's mega increases in water ,gas and electricity over the last 5 years which they are ALL passing onto West Australian people.
This outrageous Abbott propaganda Australian families are all going to be swimming in money because he plans to dump the Mining and Carbon Taxes is AN ABSOLUTE CON.
I might add there is absolutely NOTHING in Tony Abbott's Carbon and Mining Tax dumping plans, to stop state Premier's like Colin Barnett raising electricity ,water and gas prices whenever they feel the need to raise more state government revenue in years to come.

Peter Costello: “Work for a living and we’ll tax you at close to 50 cents in the dollar; speculate and we’ll only take 25 cents. Not only that but, as a special deal – while stocks last – we’ll pay half your speculating costs.”

Clearly, the tax system is biased towards the rich in terms of cost deduction and tax liability minimisation.