Federal budget a kick in the guts for Denis Napthine

ANALYSISJoe Hockey’s tough love budget is a kick in the guts for Denis Napthine’s bid to win re-election.

The Premier, already struggling in the polls, has been delivered $20 billion in education and health cuts over the next decade by his Federal Liberal colleagues, and ordered to work it out.

Health and education are not this government’s strong suits. Federal cuts to education follow state cuts to TAFE, while hospitals are already struggling to cope with growing demand.

The $80 billion ambush on the states will force the states to address politically unpopular GST reform. Napthine is adamant Victoria deserves a fair slice of the GST pie, but so far, he won’t campaign to increase the tax’s rate.

Pressures on cost-of-living will also harm Napthine’s re-election chances. Seven dollars extra to visit the doctor, petrol prices up and cuts to family benefits — these are big voter turn-offs in key seats.

Hockey’s budget will not disappear from the news cycle overnight. It will grind on for months, potentially during the election,  as an unpredictable senate wrestles with the policies.

Politicians, including Treasurer Michael O’Brien, rightly point out that most voters are smart enough to differentiate between governments.

But the challenge for Napthine is to make sure that the mud Labor throws at his Coalition government about Abbott does not stick.

The chance is there for Napthine to take on Abbott, who is not popular in Victoria.

Napthine repeatedly says he is for Victoria “first, second and third” but voters are yet to be convinced.

The newest Premier on the block, NSW’s Liberal Leader Mike Baird, immediately called the budget “a kick in the guts for NSW”, Campbell Newman called for an emergency meeting of Commonwealth leaders and accused Abbott of trying to wedge the states on GST.

Napthine backed Newman’s call for a meeting and on Wednesday morning, Napthine was asked if he agreed with Baird about the kick in the guts.

He only said he agreed with the broad sentiment. It was an opportunity missed.

He was slightly stronger on Thursday morning radio, telling radio station 3AW that he “pulled no punches” when speaking to the PM about the cuts and repeated the lines that he was for Victoria “first, second and third.”

In 2011 the Baillieu government went ballistic over a $107 million federal health cut imposed by federal Labor, it was easier to kick the Gillard government but the public are looking for more in an election year and when the funding cut is $20 billion.

Last week, treasurer Michael O’Brien out lined a state budget that armed the Coalition with a $27 billion infrastructure war-chest. It looked like an election-winning budget.

Right now those major projects, including the East West Link and a new Melbourne Rail Link to be delivered over the next decade, are far from voters’ minds.

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