The message from the Coalition has been loud, shrill and as sophisticated as a slap in the face with a cold fish. Since Tony Abbott’s budget reply speech in May, he, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb have been emphatically claiming Australia is in a state of “budget emergency.” The perpetrators? Those gol-darned Reds in the Labor party.
Despite the country’s AAA credit rating and that whole “one of the strongest economies in the world” thing, the former opposition have been pounding the panic button and attempting to convince as many people as possible that Australia is going to hell in a fiscally irresponsible hand basket.
For pure sensationalism and hyperbole the Coalition’s so-called “budget emergency” is reminiscent of the Labor’s government’s tendency to declare war on everything: the war on waste, the war on binge drinking, the war on soft meat pies at the servo, etcetera.
But since the election we have heard nothing of the disastrous “budget emergency.” Abbott and co have kept mum on the subject. How could such a horrible spectre dissapear so quickly? Where did it sneak off to?
On the weekend myself and an army of intrepid Twitter truth-seekers decided to go looking.
Our manhunt germinated from a spur of the moment decision made on Friday night between myself and fellow tweeter John Carney. We agreed to wake up Saturday morning and print out this picture drawn by Crikey’s inimitable cartoonist First Dog on the Moon:
We pledged to stick it to trees and poles, take photographs, tweet them and encourage others to do the same, using the hashtag #missingbudget. Like a social media version of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?, we would find out where this pesky Emergency had got to.
Fast forward 24 hours and our hashtag is trending nationally, then in Melbourne, then in Sydney. Twitter users around the country are plastering their neighbourhoods and tweeting photographs. First Dog’s picture is being stuck to poles, trees, walls, windows, fences and notice boards. It’s appearing in, on or outside MP offices, cafes, restaurants, train stations, shops, parks, bathrooms, toilets, stadiums, museums…
The locations are too many and varied to name, but photographs of the poster were taken in suburbs such as Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin, Alphington, Upwey, Watsonia, Gibson, Balaclava, Seymour, Croydon, Camberwell, Collingwood, Clifton Hill, Westgarth, Fitzroy, Narre Warren, Patterson Lakes, Goulbourn Valley, St Kilda, Malvern, Central Victoria, Bangalee, Bridgewater, Carey Gulley, Nambucca Heads, Shoalhaven, Ultima, Manoa Creek, Mount Gravatt, the Gibson Desert, Bundaberg and many many more.
The poster also went international. It was held up and photographed during a soccer match in Tokyo, outside Emirates Stadium in London, stuck to a wall in a windy street in Copenhagen and on a wire fence in New York’s East River Harbour.
What was the point of all this? Did we even have one?
It’s hard to say. There were no meetings, of course, and everybody probably came at it for slightly different reasons. Perhaps it was non-partisan political activism: making a point that, irrespective of what side of the political fence you reside, educated people can smell the stench of jingoism and dog whistle politics a mile away, and through comedy we demonstrated an understanding of how deeply ridiculous the Coalition’s “budget emergency” bumper sticker was.
#missingbudget is also an example of the democratic power of social media — an ability to go beyond clicks, likes and RTs into the realm of real actions instigated by real people rallying around a shared cause. Not exactly the Arab Spring but in its own way quite a sight to behold.
Also, it was fun. Twitter user @Billablog has put together an extensive Storify feed capturing most of the weekend’s developments, which will give you a good idea of the kinds of places the now (sort of) iconic poster was placed. In response to popular demand from punters and #missingbudget activists (who could blame them?) First Dog now has t-shirts for sale.
And the official findings re: the Budget Emergency’s whereabouts? We haven’t found it yet, but we’ll keep looking.