Er… was Iron Mark really that good?

Mark Latham is genius and his conference performance was brilliant. The Telegraph said it. The other News Limited papers said it. Hell, everybody in the Oz other than Christopher Pearson said it, too.

Was this a case of great minds thinking alike – the greatest, of course, of them all being Rupert’s?

Unlikely. Will he be any better off under a Labor Government? No. And, anyway, over at Fairfax Alan Ramsey was being less of a curmudgeonly old fart that usual and Michelle Grattan was kind.

But why?

I thought I’d left the Liberal Party behind long ago – but I reacted to Latham’s keynote speech with horror.

I thought he’d done himself enormous damage with all his talk of a government as big as this country so early in his keynote speech this morning:

“Delegates, the Australia I believe in is a big country. Big in size, big in spirit, big in character.

“And that’s our task: to be bigger than the Howard Government.

“Big enough to invest in the education and health care of our children.

“Big enough to provide public housing for the poor and care for the aged and disabled.

“Big enough to protect the environment and ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

“Big enough to protect our great natural assets – to save the Murray

Darling and the Great Barrier Reef.

“Big enough to care for our regions and – once and for all – stop the

full sale of Telstra.

“Delegates, we can be so much bigger than the Howard Government.

“Big enough to help the working poor and put some decency back into the industrial relations system…”

I thought someone would point out that big government rhetoric and small government economics don’t go.

Isn’t it clear that big government costs big dollars – and that means bigger tax bills bigger interest rate costs and bigger levels of inflation?

And as for his comments on industrial issue, I was gobsmacked. Latham surely doesn’t really believe in an outmoded, inflexible and employment unfriendly system of workplace relations – but no-one seemed to be listening.

It can’t have impressed the top end of town – and even Beazley managed to be more succinct in his comments on the little fellas. He put it all in just 10 words: “We have never pretended to be a small business party”.

I thought the Government would have a field day with this – but no. They seemed to be talking to themselves – increasingly desperately.

Make no mistake. The mood amongst Government MPs and staffers is not good at the moment. Labor National Conference delegates may have departed Darling Harbour with a spring in their step – but the Libs looked very glum this weekend.

But isn’t there plenty of material for a good old union bashing scare campaign in what Latham said? Surely the PM would like nothing better.

Unless… Unless… No… Surely not.

The media haven’t finally realised that John Howard and his Government are a team of slippery, lying hypocrites who will do or say anything to get re-elected – and aren’t going to let them get away with it this time?

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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