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Analysis: Hayne, citizenship saga take shine off 2018 budget

Every year, the federal budget whips journos into a ritualistic frenzy of anticipation that I still find odd. This year’s edition proved to be pretty dull reading.

On Wednesday afternoon, a friend asked me: “What do you make of this year’s budget?”

“Not a lot,” I told him. Which is true — there are better stories to cover. An item like the 2018–19 Federal Budget is simply too cumbersome to fit neatly into the cut and thrust of the 24-hour news cycle. Besides, the explosive headlines that came out of the banking royal commission were bound to leave the budget coverage a little lacklustre. 

At a breakfast hosted by NAB the morning after budget night, the vast ballroom at Sydney’s The Star casino lacked enthusiasm. Few questions were asked by the audience, most of them small business owners. The rest of the congregation were an assortment of professionals, including a fair portion of bankers.

Keynote speaker and Sky News anchor Helen Dalley provided a summary of the key points — tax cuts, aged care, infrastructure — but made sure to weave the Hayne royal commission into her narrative.

In what she believes is a “fair assessment” of the Turnbull government’s proposed corporate tax cuts, Dalley pointed to The Australian’s Paul Kelly, who wrote that they have been “ambushed, and possibly derailed, by the corporate sector itself by the timing of the revelations and executive’s evidence at the royal commission and the admission of bad behaviour and bloated bonuses”.

The Sky News veteran then pointed to Australia’s longest serving federal treasurer, Peter Costello, who last week doubted the government would get company tax cuts through, blaming the arrogance of certain corporate leaders who have “cruelled the hopes of tax cuts for the wider business community”.

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On budget eve, Costello gave an equally scathing review of the current government on his side of politics.

But the real excitement happened after breakfast, when the High Court found Labor senator Katy Gallagher ineligible to sit in the parliament due to her dual citizenship.

Shortly after, Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie and Labor MPs Justine Keay, Josh Wilson and Susan Lamb stepped down before the sun set over Parliament House, generating plenty of headlines and interrupting the good news being pumped out of the Turnbull camp.

So, there you have it — the citizenship saga is back and making headlines once again, the budget is almost forgotten and the royal commission will return for its third round of hearings on 21 May.

Order is restored.

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