New script: Hockey turns his back on the “Budget emergency” rhetoric

First published by Mojonews

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s language in last week’s Budget was dramatically different to last year’s, where he declared the Government was in a “Budget emergency”.

Mr Hockey pursued major spending cuts last year to “fix the Budget”, whereas this year’s Budget is widely seen as an effort to win back voters with increased spending.

To go with that message, the language this time put more emphasis on families, the nation, the future, children and investment.

Business Spectator editor in chief Alan Kohler described this year’s Budget as a “long, grovelling apology for last year’s Budget”.

“The transformation of the Abbott Government between last year’s Budget and this year’s is a decent attempt to emulate Arnold Schwarzenegger between Terminator 1 and Terminator 2. Worst-ever baddie in one movie; best-ever good guy in the next,” Mr Kohler wrote.

A $7 co-payment for GP visits, university fee deregulation and fuel indexation were among the most unpopular saving measures proposed in last year’s Budget.

Mr Hockey justified tough cuts to services – such as indigenous health programs,CSIRO and public broadcasters – by declaring a “Budget emergency”.

But in this year’s Budget speech, Mr Hockey abandoned the key phrases he used to sell these cuts, such as “the age of entitlement is over”, “we are a nation of lifters not leaners”, “we must not leave our children worse off”, and “there is no easy way to repair the Budget”.

The Government now verges on the highest rate of spending in 20 years at 25.9 per cent of GDP, just behind Wayne Swan’s 2009 Budget at 26 per cent.

Interest rate cuts – slashed to a record low 2 per cent in May – have influenced the Government’s decision to further encourage spending by investing $3.5 billion in childcare, and providing tax cuts and deductions for small business.

National security, farming infrastructure and medical research also received additional funding after last year’s Budget saw $1.5 billion allocated to defence and $20 billion for the Medical Research Future Fund.

Mr Hockey is trying to shift the Government’s narrative to justify increased spending measures through adopting new language.

Hockey’s top 10 words in the 2014 Budget speech

Words Times mentioned in 2014 Times mentioned in 2015
1. Australia or Australians or Australia’s 28 54
2. Build 25 8
3. People 22 9
4. Now; work; age 21 10; 11; 6
5. You 19 10
6. Contribute or contributed; tax 18 1; 38
7. Nation; fund 16 8; 4
8. Family or families 15 7
9. Spend; jobs; support 10 6; 6; 3
10. Business; health 9 22; 3
Screenshot 2015-05-22 15.15.23
A word’s size reflects how often it was used in each Budget speech.

 Hockey’s top 10 words in the 2015 Budget speech

Words Times mentioned in 2015 Times mentioned in 2014
1. Australia or Australians or Australia’s 54 28
2. Tax 38 18
3. Business 22 9
4. Small business 21 0
5. Invest or investment or investing; age 16 9; 9
6. Madam; speaker 15 1
7. Pay or paying 14 9
8. Plan or planning 13 2
9. Start or started or starting; economic; more 12 9; 4
10. Share 11 1
Screenshot 2015-05-22 15.15.33
“Australia” or “Australians” or “Australia’s” aren’t included in the 2015 Budget word cloud, because they were mentioned a staggering 54 times. Words such as “and” and “the” have also been omitted.

But the Budget speech doesn’t entirely reflect adjustments to the Government’s new economic message.

The phrase “having a go” was used just once in the speech, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott used it on 18 occasions in interviews and press conferences the day after the Budget speech.

While Hockey didn’t mention “small business” in last year’s speech, it was used 21 times this year, which reflects signature economic changes in tax concessions and deductions.

“Invest”, “investing”, “invested”, “investment,” and “investing,” were almost twice as frequent this year, while “abolish”, “abolished” and “abolishing” were mentioned less than half as much this year.

“Universities” and “students” were mentioned five times each last year, but weren’t used this year, which suggests the Government is sidestepping its controversial push to deregulate university fees.

In further signs the Government is cooling its “Budget emergency” rhetoric, Hockey didn’t mention “GDP” this year.

In The Conversation, Macquarie University senior lecturer Annabelle Lukin wrote that the decision not to use “GDP” shows a limited “distinct statement of economic outlook or forecast”.

But in the latest Fairfax/Ipsos poll – released on Monday – Mr Abbott’s approval ratings as preferred prime minister hit an eight-month high at 39 per cent, indicating public approval for the Budget.

In April, the Coalition trailed Labor 54-46 on a two-party preferred basis, but an eight-point swing since the Budget’s release has both parties in a deadlock at 50-50

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