Er… Does anyone else get the impression that the Government is
desperate for anything it can whack Mark Latham over the head with?
This week’s media plan for the Government was to have the PM out and about on the ground in the marginals.

Instead, it’s been forced onto the defensive over the terror attacks on
Spain, the defeat of the government of an ally in the war on Iraq, the
lies it told to justify that war and its ugly control-freakery that saw
the PM, the Foreign Minister and the Attorney General gang up and do
the boot-boy act on the head of the Federal Police.

Labor did make a mistake in its super package.

The Treasurer did his job – and jumped on it. An $8 billion error is pretty big slip.

It made a great morning lead.

However, the ALP moved to salvage its position swiftly.
Retirement Incomes and Savings spokesman Nick Sherry quickly fessed up
to the error and carried the can – graciously, even.

He played it straight, saying Labor did not want to change the way pensions were calculated.

He admitted he had accidentally inserted the wrong definition into the
policy document – then tossed in a bit of self-depreciation.

“You don’t pick up every typographical, definitional error, in this case it was my responsibility, and I missed it,” he said.

“I think it shows when you read documents late at night, you don’t always get it right.”

Textbook stuff.

The Prime Minister, however, got into the act.

He told morning radio in Adelaide it was all an issue of “economic
competence and economic literacy” – then kept the theme up at a Liberal
Party lunch.

The bungled pension plan was evidence of Labor’s “economic amateurism” he claimed.

“Now we’ve had a little bit of an illustration this week of the
amateurism of the Labor Party federally when it comes to economic
policy. We had, with great fanfare, a new policy relating to
superannuation. What of course that meant, freed of the economic
jargon, that he was making an assumption that pensions were paid 11 per
cent higher than what they are in reality paid, and that produced an
error, a flaw, a gaffe, a hole, whatever you want to call it, of
$2-billion a year or$8-billion over the four year period.

“And I’m interested to hear this morning in Tasmania, in explaining
that away, the Leader of the Opposition says, well, his policy document
was 99 per cent right. Well on that basis, if it were 95 per cent
right, that would have been, what, $10-billion a year, or $40-billion
over a four year period.”

The $8 billion mistake in Labor’s policy demonstrated incompetence and lack of understanding of economics.

“It is an illustration that [within Labor] there is a lack of depth,
there is a lack of competence, there is a lack of understanding of some
of the fundamental issues related to the operation of the economy,” the
PM insisted.

“Always look at what Labor does rather than listening to what Labor says,” he warned.

Yup. He piled it on. And Iron Mark was embarrassed – and
evasive when asked about it down in Tassie. Eight billion is a
big slip, after all.
But who really gives a monkey’s about the difference between what
constitutes Male Total Average Weekly Earnings and Male Average Weekly
Ordinary Time Earnings?

Statisticians, yes. Econometrics wonks. People writing
policies should make sure they’re not using one term when they mean the
other – but…

There was a lot of noise from the Prime Minister that didn’t really register.

Here’s a bold prediction.

Average punters today weren’t worried at all by people saying Male
Total Average Weekly Earnings when they meant Male Average Weekly
Ordinary Time Earnings or vice versa – but they will still worrying if
last week’s events in Spain make us more of a target. They were
wondering why the PM shut Mick Keelty up quick smart when he said
something similar to what they’re thinking.

And while Iron Mark might have responded to questions about his super
gaffe with “Yeah, well, I dealt with that yesterday at the doorstop and
we’ve corrected the words and that’s where the matter ends”, he was
resolutely focussed on the security issue.

Latham said the public had a right to hear what Keelty had to say without him facing criticism.

“They’ve got the right to know the truth about the nature of the
terrorist threat and the things we need to do in this country to make
it safe and secure for the future,” he said.

“The AFP should be independent of political processes, they should be
independent of party politics and it’s not compulsory in our system to
agree with the government.”

Amen to that.

Latham we could leave the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings and the
Male Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings to the wonks, but should let
the police do the job we pay for them to do – protect us – without
political interference.

That’s the issue that mattered yesterday. It still matters
today. Despite all the PM’s talk about “economic competence and
economic literacy” – laid on with a trowel.

He’s desperate to attack Latham – but just can’t do it properly.
He might as well let Peter Costello have a typically political go at
him over issues that only matter to the political classes and their
hangers-on.

PS – More on economic competence. Here’s just one par of
what John Howard had to say about his Treasurer yesterday on
radio: “And can I say yesterday Peter Costello, you mentioned his
name, demonstrated his real skill, there is nobody in the Parliament
who has got a better mastery of the figures and the detail of
economics, when he pointed out that $8 billion mistake in the Labor
Party’s superannuation policy.” Prime Minister, mate, if you
intend to stay there forever but don’t want to create tensions, stop
telling us that Cozzie does a better job than you do.

Peter Fray

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