It was just a few weeks ago that Scott Morrison put his team in "election mode".
There should be no doubt that Morrison hopes that the budget, to be brought down next Tuesday, will carry them through to an election next year.
Given the considerable uncertainty about whether the virus can be effectively contained to avoid future waves, and about how, and how fast, our economy will actually recover, and recognising that polls may turn somewhat against both Morrison and his government as our economic circumstances prove more difficult in an uneven recovery, Morrison will want to go as early as he can, despite what he may say in press conferences.
The first possible date for a joint House/Senate election is August 7, 2021.
For a number of reasons, I suspect it is reasonable to expect an election next September.
It is quite clear that Morrison and Frydenberg have recently decided to "throw all caution to the wind" in the hope of generating a fast, but not necessarily sustained, recovery - at least enough to carry them through to late next year.
This is evident in several of their recent announcements.
Firstly, easing of restrictions on bank lending, even though the Hayne Royal Commission had warned that banks had knowingly lent more to individuals than they knew that they could afford, and with household debts at record levels, and where many mortgage/debt payments have already been deferred.
Secondly, extending leniency to companies trading when insolvent and, thirdly, the declared "fiscal pivot" to "prioritise reducing unemployment over reducing debt" - specifically to keep running deficits "until the unemployment rate is comfortably back under six per cent".
It is, therefore, not unreasonable to imagine that, as with the sports rorts affair, some staffer has been given the task to colour code issues, by electorates, and for the budget spending to then be targeted accordingly, but with an eye on jobs where possible.
In these terms, the "amount" of spending now doesn't matter so much, it is more important to just make sure that all the key political boxes get ticked.
This is, of course, a very high-risk strategy, in both economic and political terms.
To be frank, economic management has been "learning by doing" since the pandemic emerged in January.
For example, the initial stimulus package was a mere $16 billion, but quickly became upwards of $300 billion, when we include the Reserve Bank commitments.
The various initiatives were initially claimed to be "temporary and reversible" but disengagement has already required that they be staged, as with JobKeeper, and it is certainly not clear that more will not be required.
While we all hope that the virus can be contained, and this will be assumed in the budget numbers, as we saw with the July Economic Statement the assumptions then made about the magnitude and duration of the second wave in Victoria were "wrong" within days.
While, as an island, we have been able to contain the virus by effectively closing our international borders (backed by compulsory quarantine), it's most unlikely that these borders can be opened significantly (small bubbles aside) until a vaccine is developed and deployed. This will ensure sustained damage to two key sectors - international tourism and universities, both large exporters and employers.
The government just doesn't know how many will remain unemployed, as JobKeeper is removed, or how many will be underemployed, nor the likely differential effects on youth, women, and the disabled.
Similarly, it just doesn't know how many businesses will turn out to be "zombies" and ultimately fail, nor how many individuals will end up bankrupt.
Marketing Morrison focuses on the announcements and not the detail, without any real follow-through in terms of the ultimate delivery of spending programs.
He repeats slogans - the budget will be declared a "Plan" - three keywords, "Cushion", "Recover", and "Rebuild".
Morrison then manages the media on his "narrative" - briefings/leaks the night before announcements, friendly interviews the next morning and then the formal announcements.
Journalists are basically restricted to a single question at the attached press conferences, but often "he doesn't accept the premise of the question".
Gone are the days of journalists being able to pursue an issue and being able to ask a dozen or so questions consecutively.
This will be Morrison's desired budget strategy, but it could be short-lived depending on whether the virus and our economy "behave".
John Hewson is a former Liberal opposition leader.