Fitzgibbon has his eye on Labor’s leadership should the chance arise. Joyce is in the process of undermining Michael McCormack with a view to replacing him as leader of the Nationals.
Why not stage a blue for the audience? Show a bit of fire and lip for the judges – Joyce going at Labor’s target of net zero emissions by 2050; Fitzgibbon repositioning himself as the man to defend his party’s modern policies.
At least this charade was mildly entertaining.
Less so has been the over-familiar nonsense concerning Budget forecasts.
Every year we are subjected to the deception that political leaders can predict where the economy will find itself in a year’s time – or, for that matter, in the next several years.
It’s called the Budget. This forecasting becomes even more skew-whiff when an election is in the offing, which is precisely where we all found ourselves last May.
Even by the standards of modern politics, last year’s effort was risible.
The Morrison government’s big bang in the weeks before Australians cast their votes at the federal election was an assurance that the Budget had delivered a surplus.
It wasn’t true. The Budget was in deficit.
All Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had done was take a deep breath and predict that they could deliver a surplus … a year ahead.
They had to do something. They were facing an election without any policies to speak of and a recent history of leadership madness.
History shows they won the election, of course. Or Labor threw it away, take your pick.
Nevertheless the surplus was, if not an outright falsehood, at least premature.
“Back in Black”, screamed the Liberal marketing material next to a picture of a tremendously self-satisfied Scott Morrison. “The first Budget surplus in over a decade.”
The closest Morrison got to an admission that he had made up the claim was during a so-called “debate” in the lead-up to the election, when he strangled his tenses almost out of existence after he was tackled on the idea that the Budget had actually “delivered” a surplus.
“I said we brought the budget back to surplus next year,” he offered, acting surprised at the guffaws that ensued.
Is it much of a step from such blithe trickery with the language to the corruption of a sports grant program for political purposes or the $10 million handout to the North Sydney Olympic Pool, even though that money was from a program established for regional and remote areas?
It was barely a blink of the eye before the Liberal Party was selling coffee mugs emblazoned with the Back in Black artwork. A snip at $35.
“The 2019 Budget delivers the first surplus in more than a decade. Mark this event with the official Back in Black mug,” the Liberal Party shop blares.
Ten months later the Prime Minister, having gambled, is in danger of becoming the mug.
“Settle down,” he ordered journalists this week who insisted on asking about the future of the increasingly shaky surplus he’d promised.
“Hands up those who thought there was going to be a coronavirus epidemic when the Budget was released last May,” he pleaded.
Quite. As William Shakespeare pondered in Macbeth about the business of predicting the future: “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me.”
We might sympathise with a Prime Minister grappling with the economic fallout of Australia’s bushfire disaster and now the prospect of a pandemic.
But desperate pre-election forecasts have a history of backfiring.
Remember Wayne Swan? His 2010 Budget for the Rudd government was a sensation.
He was going to bring in a surplus within three years, a mighty three years earlier than forecast. “Come hell or high water,” he trumpeted.
This was courageous, as Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister fame might have said. There hadn’t been a Labor government surplus since the Hawke-Keating effort in 1989-90.
Perhaps Swan was suffering a surfeit of self-confidence, having overseen Australia’s books when it survived the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.
But here two years later in May 2010 was Swan, like Morrison last year, going the whole 10 yards and claiming he had actually delivered a surplus.
He hadn’t. And never would. Falling revenues and the failure of the Resource Super Profits tax forced him to abandon his promise in December 2012.
The Coalition opposition was merciless. It was proof Labor couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth or run an economy, hollered opposition leader Tony Abbott, promising to “pursue the government every single day until the next election on its failure to deliver the surplus”.
Ten months later, the Rudd-Gillard government Swan had served was swept away.
Then, as now, there was less to political theatre – and Budget promises – than meets the eye.
Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.