Pain-sharing promise to haunt PM
The broken promise that has inflicted massive and potentially
irreparable damage on Tony Abbott was made after the Coalition trounced
Labor at last year's election, not before.
It was that everyone would share the pain of improving the
budget bottom line equally and it was repeated endlessly by Joe Hockey
and Abbott as they framed their first budget.
The unequivocal verdict from a special, expanded post-budget Age-Nielsen Poll is that they have failed comprehensively in this crucial task - and will pay a very heavy price.
The Prime Minister is being punished for breaking all those
unnecessary pre-poll promises, to be sure, but it is the verdict on
fairness that is most telling and will be most difficult to shake.
The numbers are diabolical and will send shock waves through a
Coalition party room that was showing signs of panic and ill-discipline
before the budget was unveiled.
They will also embolden Labor and the minor parties in their determination to block key budget measures in the Senate.
Abbott now has ratings similar to Julia Gillard's at her
lowest ebb, the Coalition's primary vote is at a seven-year low and Bill
Shorten is ascendant as preferred prime minister. Rather than park
their protest vote with the Greens, voters have returned to Labor.
If that weren't bad enough, many more oppose Abbott's
increase in petrol tax (72 per cent) than support abolishing the carbon
price (46 per cent) and abolishing the mining tax (56 per cent).
It isn't that voters don't understand the need for fiscal
repair. This is shown in the fact that 49 per cent consider the budget
economically responsible. It's the way the Coalition has gone about the
task. That the budget is considered economically responsible by so many
is the only positive for Abbott in the poll but it is undercut by
another conclusion: 53 per cent think the budget is bad for the country.
The Prime Minister has compared this budget with the first of
John Howard and Peter Costello in 1996, a piece of work that also broke
promises to repair the budget and set the Coalition up for more than a
decade in power.
But that budget rates as one of the best received in the
history of polling. This one is unlikely to be beaten as the worst
received - ever.
The 1996 budget was seen as fair by the voters, with 22 per
cent more voters considering it fair than unfair. This one gets a net
fairness rating of minus 30, with almost two out of three voters saying
it fails the fairness test.
Voters, it seems, have done their sums and concluded that
those on low and middle incomes, especially those with kids, are bearing
the heaviest load.
They have also baulked at the logic that says slugging the
most vulnerable with a $7 co-payment is the most sensible way to fund a
medical research future fund.
Abbott summed up the importance of the budget and its
immediate aftermath when he told Coalition MPs on Tuesday the week would
be a critical one in the life of the government and the country.
In the weeks ahead, Abbott and Hockey will stand firm on the
co-payment and the reintroduction of petrol excise indexation and argue
they had no choice but to take the hard decisions.
But there will be pressure from within to redo the changes to
family payments and soften the dole changes that say the young
unemployed will wait six months before receiving assistance.
Last week, some Coalition MPs were comforted by the fact
there had been so few calls from constituents to their electorate
offices complaining about the budget. The explanation from this poll is
clear: the anger was beyond words.