THE political fortunes of two very different leaders and their parties could be decided in the next fortnight, long before voters head to the polls.
The state and federal budgets will be handed down on April 27 and May 3 respectively at crucial times for the Andrews and Turnbull governments.
Budget night is not simply about the government of the day outlining how it intends to spend taxpayers’ money over the next 12 months and beyond.
Rather, budgets have become carefully constructed set pieces of political theatre designed to elicit the largest possible bump in the all-important opinion polls.
For a struggling government, the budget is the once-a-year chance to reset, refocus and demonstrate to voters that whatever woes have beset it in the past, there is a clear path forward.
For a government riding high, the budget can be used to maintain its momentum at the same time as snuffing out any chance the opposition might have of clawing back lost ground.
But while budgets bring governments opportunities, they come with significant risks attached. Tony Abbott’s spectacular fall from grace can be traced back to the Coalition’s first budget, delivered just nine months after he swept to victory against a Labor party tearing itself apart.
Governments have long stuck with the strategy that the deepest and most unpopular cuts should occur early in a term when there is enough goodwill to insulate them from major damage.
But the Abbott government’s 2014 budget, designed to bring a growing deficit under control, misread the public’s mood. Its savage attack on low and middle-income earners forced it to delve into reserves of political capital that simply did not exist.
Mr Abbott’s successor, Malcolm Turnbull, must use the budget to shore up his standing not just with a public rapidly losing faith, but within his own party. The election is still very much the Coalition’s to lose, but the lustre has worn-off Mr Turnbull and a once seemingly unloseable election now shapes as a dogfight.
Mr Andrews must also use next week’s budget wisely. His government, not due to front voters until 2018, leads the two-party preferred vote 53 to 47, but serious questions remain unanswered over its fiscal acumen.
Get their budgets right and both governments can look forward to second terms.
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