Federal Budget 2024: Treasurer Jim Chalmers channels running energy into Budget pitch

Headshot of Katina Curtis
Katina Curtis
The Nightly
4 Min Read
The Great Hall tapestry is seen behind Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers as he delivers his post-budget address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Wednesday, May 16, 2024. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING Lukas Coch
The Great Hall tapestry is seen behind Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers as he delivers his post-budget address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Wednesday, May 16, 2024. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING Lukas Coch Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

Jim Chalmers has spent the week channelling his long-distance running energy into selling the Budget.

For the second morning in a row on Wednesday, he had to forgo the run to instead get ready to face the media and explain his plans.

He and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese arrived together in one of Parliament House’s many courtyards shortly before 7am, clad in suits but no coats despite the chilly Canberra autumn air.

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Between them, they gave 19 interviews before most people had arrived at work. Dr Chalmers alone did 17 throughout the day

Over and over the phrase “a tax cut for every taxpayer … energy bill relief for every household” was uttered as they gave the hard sell on what the Government wants people to take away from Tuesday’s Budget papers.

But over and over they were asked why the Government was helping pay the electricity bills of rich people, whether their inflation taming would be enough for the Reserve Bank to cut rates, and whether all this was just an election sweetener.

“Why are you getting a $300 rebate if you’re earning a million bucks in Australia?” Sunrise host Natalie Barr asked Dr Chalmers.

The Treasurer took talkback calls on ABC Brisbane and heaped praise on Rita Safiotti on Perth radio.

“How much sleep have you had last night?” one radio host asked.

“Probably a nudge under four hours, I reckon, last night but that’s because there’s a lot to do even after the Budget’s released out into the wild and then an early start this morning,” came the reply.

He got tetchy with an interviewer lost in the investment jargon about “front doors” and cross-departmental coordination but otherwise delivered his lines and kept his smile throughout the grilling.

Across the other side of Parliament’s central hall, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was standing in his own courtyard also blanketing the airwaves. Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor bounced in and out of studios down the press gallery hallway.

The post-Budget battle to shape the narrative will set the political debate up for the next few months and play into who has the best run into the election due by this time next year.

The revamped tax cuts that form a centrepiece of the cost-of-living relief were revealed in late January, before the Dunkley by-election.

But even as much as two months later, when Parliament last sat, some in Labor were worried that many people still didn’t know about them.

They do not want that to be the case heading into the election.

On the other side, the Coalition quickly landed its main attack line, that the Budget was giving “billions to billionaires”.

This started the day as an attack aimed at the production tax credits for green hydrogen and critical minerals processing but became more prominent as the hours passed and interviews racked up.

“Australians have become poorer over the last couple of years under Labor and this budget changes absolutely nothing. There’s billions for billionaires. But it’s a budget for the billionaires not the battlers,” was Mr Taylor’s opening pitch to one host.

By Question Time, the phrase had made it into several opposition questions – but the Government had twigged and ministers were already working on their rebuttals.

“Spare us the questions about billionaires when those opposite … called for an election because we wanted to give Gina Rinehart a $4500 tax cut instead of a $9000 tax cut,” Dr Chalmers thundered.

“Spare us the faux outrage, spare us the faux class warfare.”

Before making it into the parliamentary grilling, Dr Chalmers faced the National Press Club for the annual post-Budget address.

Parliament’s Great Hall was packed with hundreds of business leaders, lobbyists (including Mark McGowan, erroneously acknowledged by the MC as WA’s premier) and ministerial colleagues.

Even Mr Albanese crossed the building for the speech, although he departed as the questions began – followed 15 minutes later by the rest of the MPs who had to unceremoniously run to a vote in the chamber.

Experienced ministerial staffers pre-game these set piece addresses, predicting what journalists from each outlet will ask and preparing their boss.

The treasurer’s office must have been close to the mark because Dr Chalmers visibly relaxed as the questioning proceeded – a contrast to the jittery ball of energy he presented during the subsequent parliamentary brawl.

Apart from the rigours of the budget pitch, Dr Chalmers had another reason for missing his morning run on Wednesday: the presence in Canberra of his two older children and wife Laura.

He used his speech to acknowledge the enormous team effort from family, staff, colleagues and bureaucrats — that goes into creating a Budget.

The relief of that work coming to fruition was visible as Dr Chalmers entered the Great Hall with his wife Laura in an upbeat mood, faux-hollering jokes across the double-wide tables and then jesting with Finance Minister Katy Gallagher that she had to join him on stage.

“Those of you who’ve heard me speak in this hall before, know that I love this tapestry to my right,” he later said, gesturing to the textile artwork based on an Arthur Boyd painting of a eucalypt forest.

“I see something of a parallel in budgets: a team of people doing painstaking work, where every thread matters on its own but it still has to come together, as a coherent whole.

“It has to be a close-up and a panorama all at once and it has to last.”

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