There was a big story last week. It involved ministers, the media and the long arm of the law. Coverage was global as the public awaited news of the protagonists’ fate.
No, it wasn’t the budget that gripped Canberra last week, but the story of Boo and Pistol – Johnny Depp’s four legged friends. In Barnaby Joyce though, Jack Sparrow met his match. The mutiny was quickly ended and the pooches made their way back home. In style of course, with dining and pyjamas on the Depp private jet that would have even met Bob Carr’s high standards.You do have to give it to our Agriculture Minister – he does cut to the chase. His comment, ‘I don’t care if Johnny Depp was voted the sexiest man alive… twice. If these dogs don’t go back to the United States I will euthanise them’ – was a line, which will, as Tolstoy said of Lincoln’s oratory, live on through the ages. One thing is for sure: the new Dr Nitschke of Australian politics is unlikely to be invited to the opening premiere of Depp’s next movie.
The other story of the week was Budget night. Looking more like a reception centre than a cauldron of democracy, Parliament House saw events take place in every room as colleagues hosted constituents who came in from afar. I dropped into various events for the night’s speed dating ritual – say a few words, catch up with some friends, before racing onto the next one.There was the occasional selfie and a pat on the back to say well done for ‘getting out there’ in the media during the lead-up. I have been accused of many things but shy and retiring is not one of them.
I head to the last function of the evening: drinks hosted by Joe Hockey for Treasury officials who have been locked away for months crunching the numbers. The Prime Minister and Minister for Finance were also there for what was a jovial occasion. I approach a group of unsuspecting young members of the crowd to introduce myself: ‘Hi, I’m Josh’ I say to each of the eight of them, standing as they are in a semi-circle. To which one replies, ‘So, which Departmental group are you from?’ I shrink half a foot, replying in a muffled and semi-silent voice, ‘I’m a politician, and for my sins, the Assistant Treasurer’. ‘Oh’, he says, slightly bemused. Obviously I need to ‘get out there’ more.
The next day I do, jumping from one interview to the next before I finish the night with Tony Jones on Lateline. He, like many commentators, is clearly perplexed as to how that dastardly Tony Abbott, for whom they were looking forward to reading the last rites, has come up with a popular Budget. Indeed, he ends the interview with the telling question, ‘So is this your election, Budget?’ No it isn’t, Tony. But the fact that you’re asking the question simply shows how well it has been received.
As the week comes to an end, the Budget hype begins to take its toll. It has been wonderful to have my wife and eight-month-old daughter with me in Canberra, but having the cot in our room has meant less winks than usual. Not to mention the flying vomit which landed on the suit – another feature of having such a youthful Budget assistant.
As my family make their way home, I am reminded by my office that I have a press conference that morning with my colleague Mathias Cormann. Our job is to highlight Bill Shorten’s $52 billion budget black hole. Opposing our savings and supporting additional spending, poor old Bill’s numbers simply don’t add up. ‘Magic pudding economics’ is what I say again later that night as I respond to the Leader of the Opposition’s Budget-in-Reply speech. In Bill’s case Norman Lindsay’s book is more fact than fiction. It doesn’t matter how much he spends, the pie just seems to get bigger. ‘That’s where the magic comes in,’ explains Bill in the book, ‘the more you eats, the more you gets. Me and Sam has been eatin’ away at this pudding for years and there’s not a mark on him’.
With Canberra rising, my colleagues and I are released from the nation’s capital to go out and sell the Budget. Like apostles leaving Jerusalem, we descend on unsuspecting voters from Launceston to Lithgow, Balmoral to Burke, to promote the Treasurer’s manifesto. First stop for me is the electorate of Ryan in Brisbane, then Deakin and Aston in Melbourne, followed by the seats of Mitchell, Hughes, Reid and MacArthur in New South Wales. As a Victorian, the trip to western Sydney is something to behold. Unlike the socialist collective that has taken control of my State, Mike Baird and his Coalition are promoting growth and opportunity with cranes rising across New South Wales. In Campbelltown we visit a building site to speak to some of ‘Tony’s tradies’. Buoyed as they are with the budget, these carpenters have a smile from ear to ear. The hairdresser is happy too – he can’t wait to get a new barber’s chair capitalising on our new depreciation allowances. Forget the rhetoric that Labor is the party of the workers. These tradesman are happy to have the PM’s blue tie sitting on their blue collars any day.
The week is now coming to an end, and I’m looking forward to getting home. To my wife, the good people of Kooyong, and of course my talented junior assistant…
Josh Frydenberg is the federal Assistant Treasurer and member for Kooyong.