09/10/2007 - 22:00

Cracks in the policy mirror?

09/10/2007 - 22:00


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With so many of State Scene’s leftie mates looking increasingly dour as election day approaches, I’ve felt compelled to reconsider my long-held view that Labor will form the next government.

Cracks in the policy mirror?

With so many of State Scene’s leftie mates looking increasingly dour as election day approaches, I’ve felt compelled to reconsider my long-held view that Labor will form the next government.

Noticeable gloom descends whenever we discuss politics, indicating my friends have not discounted the possibility of losing again to the man they dislike even more than President George W Bush – namely, John Howard.

As indicated in this column over recent months, there’s an expectation that Kevin Rudd will be prime minister before Christmas.

The reason is that since about April, Labor’s polling lead over the Coalition has been protracted – 55 to 45 per cent – and it’s getting bigger.

Moreover, over those months Mr Rudd has been embarrassed several times; from his little-known three Perth meetings with former WA premier, Brian Burke; to a drunken visit to a New York strip joint; to his involvement in an intended phoney Anzac Day service at Long Tan, Vietnam, to gain maximum breakfast time TV exposure back home.

Yet, as each was unveiled, the polling gap remained intact and Mr Rudd’s personal popularity rose.

On the government side we’ve had ongoing multi-billion dollar vote-buying announcements, plus that childish imbroglio over whether Mr Howard, or the treasurer, Peter Costello, should be PM.

The latter even complained to Mr Howard’s biographers that he and his wife had never been invited to dinner at Kirribilli House.

Countering all this, Mr Rudd has: publicly declared himself a devout Christian; committed Labor to combating climate change in ways urged by eco-warriors such as former US vice-president, Al Gore; undertaken to continue administering the economy along Howard-Costello lines; vowed to retain the Medicare ‘safety net’, which that Labor previously said it would scrap; and much more.

And it’s even difficult to determine if Labor would withdraw Australia’s 550 combat personnel from southern Iraq, who are there to support the American-led alliance.

So similar has Mr Rudd claimed he’ll be to Mr Howard that one frustrated east coast conservative commentators has dubbed him ‘The Xerox Man’.

Clearly, sometime in late 2006/early 2007, Mr Rudd and his media boffins and spin-doctors decided to mirror coalition policies instead of simply opposing them.

The tactic was, pure and simple, to present Mr Rudd as a younger, more spritely Mr Howard.

And credit where it’s due – the ploy has worked well. Tens of thousands of Howard voters had shifted over to Labor whenever pollsters called.

That protracted 55-45 Labor lead has held against all revelations, and has even begun widening.

So why do my leftie mates look so dour?

Perhaps they’re more politically astute than most, or just more cautious.

All of them, despite disliking Mr Howard more than President Bush, grudgingly respect the fact that he’s won four consecutive elections – 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004.

That hat-trick plus one they don’t ignore. They know formidable opponents when they see them, and even if not necessarily expecting the worst, they certainly fear it.

Secondly, they’ve noted something that many, indeed, most, non-lefties have overlooked. Mr Howard is also something of a ‘Xerox Man’.

In the past, it’s always Labor that’s wanted to continue boosting Canberra’s powers over the states.

The Liberals have either opposed this or only reluctantly followed.

Not so Mr Howard.

Instead, he’s grasped Labor’s longstanding centralist proclivity and run with it harder and longer than any Labor leader since and before Gough Whitlam.

It’s because of this that State Scene has persistently highlighted costly Howard duplicating centralism. The fact is that Mr Howard has been Australia’s most successful centralising Labor-style PM.

There’s little doubt that the now 90-year-old Mr Whitlam, who suffered the ignominy of being fired by the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, sees the bitter irony of this strange Howard-engineered turnaround of Australia’s conservatives forces.

Let’s never forget that the primary reason the Liberal Party and its National Party ally ganged up against the Whitlam government during 1975 was because of Labor’s decision to expand the powers of Canberra far beyond levels that the conservatives ever imagined was likely.

That realisation brought together several formidable conservative tacticians: Western Australia’s Sir Charles Court; Queensland’s Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen; New South Wales senator Sir John Carrick, an old-style federalist if ever there was one; and Victoria’s Malcolm Fraser.

And that combination of ardent federalists quickly helped corner Mr Whitlam.

Sydneysiders, who hail from a metropolis with 30 of the House of Representatives’ 150 seats, love the idea of NSW, with help from centralist Victorians – 25 of whom hold Melbourne-based seats – controlling Australia via Canberra’s bureaucracy.

Far too little investigation of the power of that 55-in-150 seat holders has been undertaken by short-sighted, right-of-centre loyalists.

State Scene’s leftie mates generally appreciate this and thus see that the coming election has degenerated into a contest between two Xerox Men, with Mr Howard, because he has the advantages of incumbency, being well positioned to outscore Mr Rudd by election day via huge Canberra spending promises.

Now, no-one in Labor’s ranks appreciates the precariousness of this situation better than Mr Rudd, which explains why he’s been quietly telling those in his ranks, especially shadow ministers, not to count those chickens yet.

Too many of them, it seems, had begun focusing upon Labor’s now six-month-old 55-45 lead, with some even quietly pondering on which portfolio they’d like.

Perhaps that’s why Mr Rudd said last week that all Labor ministerial posts remained wide open.

To emphasise this he claimed that not even his position was in the ‘certain’ category.

His exact words were: “On the whole question of our frontbench arrangements – and this applies to me as well – no-one, no-one repeat, is guaranteed any position subsequent to an election.”

Unfortunately this was promptly interpreted as a hint that his deputy, Adelaide-raised Julia Gillard, now a Victorian, may make a post-election bid to become treasurer, thereby leapfrogging over shadow treasurer, Queenslander, Wayne Swan.

Understandably, journalists asked if Mr Swan would definitely be treasurer if Labor won.

Rather than coming out backing Mr Swan 110 percent, Mr Rudd beat around the bush, thereby creating greater uncertainty within the ranks.

“All of us, including me, are going to be judged by our merits and our performance in the period ahead…and it’s only once that is done can we then make a final decision about the responsibilities which should be shouldered by each individual,” he said.

Not a great morale booster for Mr Swan, who, according to Newspoll, trails Mr Costello 53 per cent to 21 per cent in polls.

However, the next day, in Sydney, Mr Rudd said: “I’m confirming today that if we are elected to form the next government of Australia that the core members of my economic team will be Wayne Swan as treasurer, Lindsay Tanner as my minister for finance and Julia Gillard as deputy leader and as minister for employment and industrial relations.”

He followed that prompt remedial remark by saying he’d in fact be naming all front benchers, which means he intends to scrap the traditional voting by Labor’s caucus for all cabinet posts.

In other words, Mr Rudd intends displacing Labor’s long-standing cabinet selection procedure with the Liberal method where their party leader decides who is a minister.

What, more Xeroxing?

And there’s still Labor’s non-existent taxation policy to be unveiled. Nothing’s been said on this most crucial of issues.

Surely that Xerox machine won’t be wheeled out again.

If so, voters would be justified in opting for the real thing – John Howard - rather than another photocopied policy.

Maybe it’s all the Xeroxing of Howardism that’s making my leftie mates so dour.


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