I don't know quite what Joe Hockey means when he talks about next month's budget. I don't know if anyone does.
The federal Treasurer has told Fairfax Media he's looking at a very nasty revenue shortfall thanks to falling iron ore prices and low wages growth resulting in weaker than expected income tax collections.
With a not untypical rhetorical flourish, he says "there seems to be no floor" on iron ore prices.
OK, I get that. It's much the same revenue problem Hockey used to give the previous government stick about.
But Hockey said nothing to disabuse the many stories of the government planning to introduce new and more generous childcare and small business packages. The budget, after all, is as much about politics as economics and there are the little matters of disastrous polls and the Prime Minister and Treasurer wanting to keep their jobs.
But he also says the budget will be "mildly contractionary". Given the revenue shortfall and the suspected new spending, a "mildly contractionary" bottom line means further big spending cuts and/or new taxes.
I rather thought Joe had said there would be no new taxes, but he's said that before.
After the way Hockey's first budget bombed, it's hard to imagine how significant spending cuts can be made without being felt by households.
Those are the households that have the government well behind in the latest poll, with Hockey himself getting much of the blame.
Then there's the matter of unemployment rising and economic growth not being strong enough to stop it. The orthodox Keynesian response at such times is for greater government stimulus, especially if the government can safely afford it.
With our low level of government debt (yes, it really is low), we can afford it, the more so if the stimulus was wisely applied in ways that add value to the nation and its people.
But, no, this budget is to be "mildly contractionary", which would mean less government stimulus.
Yet, Hockey told the AFR, fiscal policy needed to complement the Reserve Bank's monetary policy.
"Quite obviously, it would be absurd for the budget to be in an arm wrestle with monetary policy," he said. "If the Reserve Bank is easing monetary policy and the federal government has rapid fiscal consolidation, then it does send a confused signal."
So the federal government will have "mild" fiscal consolidation. Right now, that's still a confused signal.
There are smart policies that would cause no fiscal consolidation now but could credibly work to fix the structural problems down the track and maintain faith in economic management. The proposed changes to pension indexation is a reasonable example, but the government would have to have the communication and negotiation skills necessary to get that past the Senate and the electorate.
And the Hockey interview perhaps unwittingly displayed how dumb, short-term politics undermines the bigger game:
"For the first time, Mr Hockey admitted the government sat on the audit commission early last year – rather than release it to help make the case for the budget – because of the Senate elections in Western Australia and state elections in South Australia and Tasmania."
The Commission of Audit was politically flawed in its own right – like Hockey's intergenerational report and last year's budget – but whatever use it could have had in steadily building the case for budget reform was largely lost for the sake of elections that didn't much matter anyhow.
That admission also confirms the cynicism of this government, like its predecessors, in dealing with the electorate. No, we're not trusted – so it's little wonder that we don't trust them.
It says plenty about Australian politics that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have negative approval ratings.