How the Incumbent Rules

Strip away the underlying cash balance, departmental forward estimates, Treasury's economic forecasts and the rhetorical flourishes in Peter Costello's Parliamentary speech on May 11, and what can you make of Australia's 2004-05 federal Budget? Is it anything but a routine annual statement on taxing and spending? While fiscal policy is nowadays a second-tier economic tool, it's always been a top-shelf political accelerant. It's also the best example around of how governments set the agenda - particularly when general elections loom. If Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Costello have become masters at anything during their 3,000 days in government, it's been...

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