Tough Budget jab: ‘A political bribe’
Josh Frydenberg went straight from handing down his first budget in the Parliament House chamber to face a grilling from Leigh Sales.
The 7.30 host scored the first interview with the treasurer last night and peppered him with a series of questions about the promised surplus and the government's economic management.
But the ABC broadcaster had one pointed question - and it's one many might find themselves asking.
As Mr Frydenberg was selling the Coalition Government's slated tax cuts for millions of Australians, Sales asked: "But this close to an election giving cash like that, don't you risk voters viewing it cynically as a political bribe?"
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is widely expected to call an election within the coming week - most likely at the weekend - that would mean Australians going to the polls early to mid May.
"It's not at all," Mr Frydenberg said.
The treasurer insisted it was an extension of the existing tax offsets introduced last year. It will go from $530 back to $1080.
"If you have a two-income family, let's say a teacher and tradie both earning $50,000 or $60,000 a year, in 13 weeks' time, they will get $2,160 additional into their pocket," Mr Frydenberg said.
"That's money that will go to the quarterly energy bill, the yearly car insurance. This is real money to real people and it's rewarding their effort.
But Sales fired back, asking if that wasn't a sign of a "policy failure" that one-off payments were needed rather than long-term plans to lower the cost of living.
"We are taking those actions but that's not mutually exclusive," Mr Frydenberg said.
The forecast return to surplus in 2019-20 after more than a decade of deficits is a significant achievement.
Sales said the government had much to sell in regards to economic management, from low unemployment to contained inflation.
"But hasn't the Coalition itself undermined those achievements with voters through your own toxic infighting, your leadership changes and your ideological preoccupations in the past six years?" she asked.
Mr Frydenberg said he would not be drawn on the government's past periods of instability, saying the budget was "about the future".
But Sales pointed out that many voters might determine future performance in part on past performance.
"What I would say to the voters of Australia tonight is that, when we came to government, growth was lower, unemployment was higher, business investment was in free fall and the budget was firmly in the red," he said.
"We have turned that around and it is no accident."
Sales pointed out that when the Coalition came to government under then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it did so with a promise to return the budget to surplus at the end of its first time.
That election commitment never eventuated.
"You are now at the end of your second term and the surplus is still only a projection. Wouldn't it be reasonable for Australians to judge you harshly at the ballot box?"
Mr Frydenberg said the government had been "conservative" and measured in its current forecasting and said the $7.1 billion surplus pledged for next year "will happen".
"What we have seen is a steady reduction in the deficits in the years that we've come to government and now we're seeing the first surplus in more than a decade."