What is Jim Chalmers really saying?

We pull out the keywords from tonight’s budget address.

(Image: Zennie/Private Media)

There are many ways to read a political speech. In the spirit of this evening’s budget, let’s embark on a quantitative adventure. How does Treasurer Jim Chalmers use words? What’s he really saying? To what topics is he truly giving priority, and how does he differ from his predecessors? Let’s find out together!

First, new versus old. Chalmers’ inaugural budget speech as treasurer is a study in contrasts compared with the last Frydenberg speech just six months ago. As the next chart shows, Chalmers hit the topic of the “future” hard, and reassured us Labor is here to “care”. Frydenberg, by contrast, bet that when you’re talking to Australians, they want to hear the word “Australians” and be confident you have a “plan”.

As the next chart shows, Chalmers’ address has some aspects we rarely see in budget speeches. He uses the word “cheaper” a lot, which I like in a treasurer. It’s a good solid Anglo-Saxon word. Nothing too Latinate and fancy in this time of rampant inflation.

Chalmers also uses the word “accord” a lot. That’s the name he’s giving to his housing policy. It’s a different sort of accord to the one famously ironed out by Bob Hawke, unions and business back in the 1980s, but perhaps a sign that the most important part of our economy is no longer the workplace but house prices. No Labor minister uses that word by accident.

Chalmers is also fond of saying “returned”. That’s money being “returned” to the budget, or taken out of the economy. Which is a euphemistic way of saying taking tax in but not spending it on the people of Australia.

The overall impression that Chalmers wants to leave us with is one of steadiness. He uses the word “responsible” more than any other treasurer in the past two decades. These, the man from Queensland is telling us, are some very safe hands.

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