A red-on-green clash colors the cheap wash-up 2023

The opposition either supported or opposed the government’s budget proposals, some of which required legislation.

In a world where there are more than two parties, the major opposition party is crumbling, the minor opposition party and the government are fighting for turf, and the issues being debated two days after the budget were never in the budget, it’s all a bit more complicated. But probably should have.

Budget week began with a budget that aimed to please everyone by providing cost-of-living relief, welfare payments, and expenditure restriction in the face of an unexpectedly significant tax windfall.

Journalists struggled to create “winners and losers” lists.

As everyone debated over the (small) impact most of these changes would have, however well-intentioned, few talked about the budget’s grim economic projections of near-recessionary circumstances for the coming year.

By Thursday, the budget debate was about inflation. Even market economists weren’t frantic.

Thursday’s political fight was about housing and migration. There were brawls concerning housing and migration, but some participants didn’t debate solutions.

The Senate fought over the government’s $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, which was initially introduced in October’s budget.

Albanese needs a winning case to compete with the Greens for Labor seats.

On a formula created and repeated multiple times by Coalition administrations (the Future Fund, the Medical Research Future Fund), a fund is set up in perpetuity with $10 billion and its investment returns are utilized to build social housing.

“Anything that will increase inflation and, therefore, lead to higher mortgage rates cannot, in good conscience, be supported,” Coalition frontbencher Anne Ruston told the Senate this week.

Peter Dutton’s budget reply speech unveiled the Coalition’s key alternative policy: letting individuals spend their super to purchase a property. (Even though it would boost demand and property prices.)

Greens leader Adam Bandt told the House of Representatives that the fund bill is “not even a promise to spend money on housing” but a “gamble of $10 billion of public money being put into the stockmarket”.

Seeking conflict

The Senate believes the PM and Greens want to battle over this subject. Anthony Albanese may think he has addressed Labor’s economic management and national security political weaknesses to the Coalition. However, the Greens are challenging Labor for seats, so he needs a winning argument.

Housing may be our biggest domestic concern in the next years. The expense of living may have dominated the news. However, budgetary support may help.

Housing is different. There’s the general question of housing affordability for both buyers and renters; the shift that means about 35% of Australians now rent; and the chronic underfunding – in fact, abandonment for all intents and purposes – of a commitment by all levels of government for several decades to play a serious role in providing social and affordable housing.

Greens voters are mostly younger renters. The Coalition may use a migration to dog whistle.

On Thursday night, Peter Dutton informed parliament that migration will rise by 1.5 million over five years due to a housing and rental crisis. “Where will these people live?”

This is a legitimate issue, ignoring pandemic-related migratory disruptions. Unfortunately, the opposing leader had no response. The “letting super buy houses” idea was it. He refused to answer whether his statement implied that arrival figures should be adjusted.

No policy options

The Coalition’s issue is business’s demand for foreign labor. Migration increase is one of the few factors that will keep household spending flowing and companies open in an economy expected to barely avoid recession in 2023-24.

It appears harmless to discuss migrants as superfluous rivals for scarce housing supply, given the electorate is hot on the topic.

This was one of the times Dutton criticized the government’s policies without actually opposing it.

He claimed Labor’s planned petroleum resource rent tax hike showed its anti-gas bias. He then emphasized that the party room had not resolved to oppose it.

His speech did not address whether the Coalition would reject the $40-a-fortnight JobSeeker rate rise, even if it would support other welfare payments. Dutton proposed letting welfare recipients work more without losing their benefits. If the administration considered it, the opposition may support the hike.

The opposition is immaterial since the JobSeeker rate will pass with crossbench support.

As with so much this week, it can strike a pose to be seen to stand for something in a messy field of poses at a time when Dutton has chosen to stick with the politics he knows rather than pivot with the times, as the polls suggest.

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