The architects behind the classic 2014 federal budget reassemble to discuss how this still controversial and powerful document was made.
TONY ABBOTT (former PM): It was our Led Zep “IV”. I think it’s a grower. It wasn’t for everyone at the time. The critics didn’t dig it. But history will prove it’s a winner.
SCOTT MORRISON (current treasurer): Man, “2014”. Phew. That’s a big one to live up to. Anyone who’s a treasurer will tell you that’s the one we all secretly wished we’d done. Just so – brutally simple.
JOE HOCKEY (former Treasurer): It started out small… it was only ever intended for a select audience. Just our hard core fans… disgruntled second yacht owners, our local church group, people named Rupert.
ABBOTT: We were jamming… chucking around ideas in a small room…. “cut disability pensions”, “squish poor people”, “do something cool with coal” …. I think it was meant to be a song for our Christmas party. But it was always bigger than that.
HOCKEY: Before we knew it there was this feeling, “hang on, this could be massive”.
ABBOTT: Man, I don’t remember what I was taking back then. Yes I do. A muesli bar.
PETA CREDLIN (former adviser): I said to the boys, ‘there’s a real message here: cut everything”. It’s a perfect antidote to these over the top times. Folks want it scaled back.
ABBOTT: I said to Peta, “Man, that was just me ranting. It’s just a sexy diatribe”. She looked me straight in the eye and said “no, what you have here is a federal budget”
HOCKEY: We thought awesome! We're finally ready for the big time! So we did what we did best. We hopped into the back of a Hummer, circled a few Canberra roundabouts and just wrote…
CHRISTOPHER PYNE (former Education Minister): Though no one could actually type so we had to dictate. Which was pretty funny as we had Murdoch on the blower instructing us every step of the way. So it was kinda double dictation.
THE MAKING OF THE BUDGET
HOCKEY: Crazy times. We’d start at 10.30 in the morning and go through till 6pm at night. Stopping only for prayer breaks, afternoon naps, high tea, Parliamentary sittings and modelling shots for Cigar Monthly.
PYNE: Also we’d get bored and leave early.
HOCKEY: It became a competition as to who could sneak out first. Someone would say “I’ve got a parking ticket on my car”, he’d leave the building then never come back. “Ah you bastard Abbott, you won again”.
CREDLIN: There was an amazing chemistry going on. It was Julie Bishop’s beehive and gravity. Defied the laws of nature, yet it somehow worked.
ABBOTT: Me and Joe were in synch. It was like Lennon and McCartney working in a small room. He’d toss out an idea…
HOCKEY:… I’d say “Dude, education?”
ABBOTT: I’d say “Slash it!”
HOCKEY: “Family tax benefits”.
HOCKEY: You get the picture.
ABBOTT: Can I tell you something? Sometimes I had no friggin clue what Joe was going on about, I’d just say slash. Hey, it worked.
MATTHIAS CORMANN (former Minister of Finance): Being from Belgium I couldn’t really understand vat anyone vas zaying. But we communicated through violent prods ven I vas falling asleep.
HOCKEY: Yeah that funky Belgian was one mad cat, man! He did some crazy pie charts!
CORMANN: Actually I never did a pie chart. None of us knew how to do a pie chart. Although we did eat a lot of pie. Can you put in exclamation mark so that is a joke? Maybe a smiley face. Thank you.
HOCKEY: Tony was like a madman in those last few days. He’d come straight from his early morning swim. Wouldn’t bother to change. Just get in there and wobble around the room, dripping wet in his speedos.
ABBOTT: In hindsight I probably should’ve had a formal wetsuit on.
PYNE: Some of the visiting female dignitaries did get a bit put out.
CREDLIN: He wrote the whole “Increase student University fees” whilst wiggling around in his towel. The girls would come in to watch. Then they’d leave silently.
HOCKEY: We did get stuck at one point… it was real writer’s block… we’d just slashed foreign aid to 40 countries. It felt good, right? But then where do you go after that?
PYNE: I said, go to Adelaide! Mind you that was what I said after every Cabinet meeting.
ABBOTT: Yeah we were all stuck. It was crazy in there, a real sweatbox. I remember tossing a dart randomly at a map of Australia. Just for inspiration, y’know.
HOCKEY: It landed on a picture of some really ancient dude.
PYNE: Robert Menzies.
ABBOTT: Suddenly… I had this flash – let’s cut old age pensions! I must’ve said it out loud cos the others were pretty impressed.
CORMANN: I remember nodding.
HOCKEY: Man, it was genius. It was… all there. Needs no work, y’know. Just perfect.
ABBOTT: I was pretty happy with that track.
PYNE: You gotta give credit to Peta. Where other people saw unnecessary hurt and cruelty she saw artistic genius.
CREDLIN: The boys were thinking of releasing it small scale, low key. Maybe doing a few clubs, with heavy security and look a likes playing them so they wouldn’t be shot or torn apart by angry mobs. I said, “boys this is your OK Computer”. You have to own it.
HOCKEY: I still remember the first day the budget came out. Ok, so the reviews weren’t great. Lots of protests. Heavy condemnation.
CORMANN: It was difficult time… people would say “are you zis Finance Minister who has caused so much hurt?” I’d say “ah no I am Belgian tourist. Where is your waffle factory?” They would say “no you are the Finance Minister, let’s smash your stupid fat face in”. At very worst I would be gently beaten up with mild concussion. Then I would drift off to sleep sweetly.
ABBOTT: If the mark of a great budget is that its still remembered very vividly, years later by people waking up in the middle of the night shaking, then I think “2014” was a winner.
HOCKEY: I still get blokes come up to me in the street… they have this look of shock and wonder and they say “did you really do that?” Then they’ll say , “but why?” You know, “WHY?”
ABBOTT: Well you can’t question artistic choices.
HOCKEY: Especially since we cut the arts.
CREDLIN: It was one of those rare moments… where lightning strikes. Think: how often is it in Australian history when two middle aged white conservative men, team up to deliver a series of inspiring budget cuts? I think it was one of those really unifying moments for Australia.
HOCKEY: We get offers all the time – everything from: can you guys do a stags night in Rooty Hill RSL to playing Skilled Stadium in Geelong supporting Savage Garden. Or can you lie in the middle of this deserted stretch of highway while my ute runs over you?
ABBOTT: I’m just keeping a low profile these days. I've had my time in the spotlight. I'm happy just to tender my onion farm and write poetry.
CORMANN: Though my English better is. Plus I am learning do pie charts.
HOCKEY: It’s tempting for us to all get back together and tour “2014”. But what would be achieved? Just a bit of cash? There’d have to be artistic integrity.