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No sale as punters fail to buy Swan's budget

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 23 May 2011


Was the 2011 budget “...a dog's breakfast. Give some, take some, end up where you were before”?

Or “Very well-balanced between the need for fiscal rectitude and the need to address outstanding social/health issues. Also a modest windback of middle class welfare”?

The problem for the government is that it could easily be either, and while these quotes come from opposite ends of the spectrum, it explains why in our virtual online focus group of opinion-leading Australians no-one is overly impressed with it.

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A poll of the 633 participants showed 38% approval, 41% disapproval and 21% neutral or unsure. It's at best a pass conceded.

That's the good news. The bad news is that as a vote winning device it definitely was a fail. Only 19% were more inclined to vote for Gillard because of it, while 41% were less likely, a net move of -21%. Not all of this transferred to Tony Abbott: only 32% said they were more likely to vote for him while 32% were also less likely - a draw.

Labor is suffering because it is trying to fight on all fronts. It wants to win back blue collar conservatives from the Liberals, but it thinks it needs to hold the Greens and left-wing independents close as well.

And this is in the context of the broader picture where voters are unsure of themselves and their prospects, feel squeezed by increasing costs and believe that the country is probably heading in the wrong direction, led by two politicians that they don't particularly like.

This is leading voters to focus more on personal benefits, like money in the pocket, and less on intangibles, like climate change.

When we put responses into a Leximancer concept map it finds three themes: “Debt” (associated with Liberal voters), “Welfare” (associated with Greens and Labor voters) and “Tax” (contestable territory between the two).

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You can see Labor struggling to be in all three places at once with dubious results. At the macro level they save $22 B (debt), in order to spend $21 B (welfare), and tax stays the same.

This manifests itself at a micro level where, for example, they increase the fringe benefits on company cars – Greens might like it as it reduces milage and thus emissions - but offer $5,000 to businesses to buy new ones – a sop to the many self-employed contractors and businesses who in fact mostly use their cars for work and so can't reduce milage.

The result is that both sides are dissatisfied – there are no fewer cars on the road and with times being tough companies aren't buying new equipment, so they'll just end up paying more tax.

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An edited version of this article was published in The Australian on March, 21, 2011.



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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