The Abbott Government's Budget communications strategy is terrible.
But clever messaging can't sell rubbish.
Abbott's first budget is profoundly unfair.
It targets vulnerable groups and does little to make the better-off make a commensurate (and permanent) contribution - a one year freeze on politicians' salaries just highlights the unfairness.
It didn't have to be so unfair.
A more far-sighted (and methodical) approach would have included long overdue tax and super reforms.
Already putting all the weight on expenditure, the Government also trumpets a reduction in the overall tax take. They are headed in the wrong direction.
Unfairness is bad enough. Wrap it up with dishonesty and you have a combustible mix.
The treatment of the states was dishonest.
Not publishing tables of impacts on typical families (a long standing practice) was also dishonest.
Breaking promises by the truckload and trying to dissemble with some nonsense about 'fundamental honesty' is absurd.
Ordinary people don't buy into qualifications on honesty.
Abbott's rank dishonesty has robbed the Liberals of one of their big advantages over the ALP after the Rudd-Gillard period - trust. They promised to restore trust, they promised no excuses and no surprises.
Eight short months after coming to office, Abbott has destroyed one of his best electoral assets.
This is just as significant as the way the NSW Liberals have lost their corruption advantage over the ALP after recent months of revelations in ICAC.
With a budget riven with unfairness and dishonesty, it is probably not surprising that the Budget measures look like a chaotic collection cobbled together at the last moment.
Clearly, measures like the Medicare co-payment have not been thought through. How will it shift cost to the states; how will it affect people with major illnesses and so on?
A co-payment may be a good idea, very few government services are completely free to the end user these days. But it is a dangerous thought bubble unless you think through, and consult on, the complexities of implementation.
The medical research fund is a pie in the sky (cancer cure?) add-on designed no doubt by some PR genius to make the co-payments more politically palatable - all it does is emphasis that the co-payments are not there to make the healthcare system sustainable. Not one dollar will go to better healthcare.
Nor is it obvious that broader principles have been applied to deciding on which sets of policies to pursue.
The Government wants more people to provide more for themselves in old age but cuts the low income super contribution (a measure that only highlights the unfairness in the super system).
Abbott, the "feminist", has stuck with his outrageous paid parental leave (a harbinger of his policy ineptitude if ever there was one). But his budget also cuts funds for family day care.
All this policy chaos is a bit much from a government that has been at pains to portray itself as 'methodical'.
Yes, there is a budget problem. But it is not a crisis. Tony Shepherd of the BCA and the Commission of Audit said so. There is always a problem after an event like the GFC. In the past, governments have mostly relied on slight increases in tax rates until the Budget rebalances.
Countries with a Budget 'crisis' don't get AAA ratings.
The 'crisis' was always a political thing created to bash the previous government and it is now being used to pursue a right-wing policy agenda - it is another example of the government's dishonest approach.
The coup de grace in this respect is that the Budget actually does very little to address Budget problems. In some ways by reducing overall revenue (as the PM proudly says) it has exacerbated the problem.
Most bizarre of all, to me, is that the Budget is a massive political minefield.
It has already delivered a shocking set of poll numbers.
These numbers have destroyed Abbott's big 'early election' bargaining chip and made any claims to a mandate more ridiculous than they were already.
The Budget has pitted the PM against his state colleagues, when there are elections coming up in the three largest states in the near term.
Understandably Napthine, Baird and Newman have no interest in campaigning on a broader GST at a higher rate when it turns out this idea is signifcantly less appealing to the electorate than the carbon tax was.
Surely, Abbott and his advisers could have forseen their concerns and put in place a strategy to manage the fall-out.
Nothing. Nada. I think this shows that they have believed their own overcharged political rhetoric. They focused on the funding problem rather than the policy problem - and washed their hands of the problem. The states don't have that luxury.
The Budget has re-invigorated Abbott's political opponents in both the ALP and the Greens.
It has left the PM at the mercy of a complex set of political possibilities in the Senate.
Over recent years, Abbott has shown almost no capacity for successful negotiation with independents, minor parties and, now, state leaders.
But there is much more electoral pain to come.
Many of the nasties are timed to rollout progressively over the months and years ahead.
Truly crazy stuff. All those letters spewing out of Centrelink and the ATO to millions of Australians updating them on the reductions in their entitlements.
When people start to truly understand what the end of the age of entitlement means for their family budgets, the disillusion and hostility with this Government will grow and be entrenched.
Today, Abbott and his government are taking a business as usual approach.
They will tough it out. Things will get better. People will forget the pain and thank the government when the economy starts roaring along.
This belief in a U-curve in opinion polls following major policy changes was also held by Gillard and her government in relation to climate change pricing. Didn't happen.
The question is whether Abbott can recover from this stuff-up.
I doubt it.
Too much damage has been done.
Unless Abbott starts apologising, does a deal with the states, and brings on some tax and super changes to address the lack of fairness - he is a dead duck.
Abbott has given himself a massive political agenda to navigate and he is already looking a bit tired and lacklustre. He will need to sharpen up.