Crikey will be opening the sealed sections and website to both Liberal
and Labor professionals to give their analysis over the duration of
this marathon campaign and today we have a senior Labor insider and a
less-senior Liberal slugging it out over the opening day performances.

Labor insider on Howard’s shaky start

“This election, ladies and gentlemen, will be about trust.”

No,
this is not some Clark and Dawe spoof, the Prime Minister himself
actually said that. Although, of course, his idea of trust is different
from what most voters might be thinking when they hear the words
“trust” and “John Howard” in the same sentence.

“Who do you
trust to keep the economy strong and protect family living standards?
Who do you trust to keep interest rates low? Who do you trust to lead
the fight on Australia’s behalf against international terrorism?”

So
why did he sound so unconvincing? When asked whether he was calling a
six week campaign because he was scared of Latham and didn’t want
another session of Parliament, Howard could only mumble. When asked
whether he could guarantee his election spending spree wouldn’t put the
budget into deficit, Howard thundered “absolutely”, the word Gary
Toomey kept using to assure us all was well at Ansett right before the
airline went best. As any decent copper will tell you, when a suspect
answers “absolutely”, instead of giving a straightforward “yes” you
know they have something to hide.

It’s without a doubt the
least convincing start to an election campaign of Howard’s last four,
and the reasons for it are obvious – what the hell does he stand for?

In
2001 he positively burst into the election, riding on the back of Tampa
and September 11 as the only man who could defend the nation from
swarms of children-overboard throwing Muslim terrorists. In 1998 it was
his lifetime ambition to inflict a GST on the nation, and in 1996 he
was the bloke who wasn’t Paul Keating.

But 2004? “Keep” the
economy strong, “keep” interest rates low – in other words, absolutely
nothing but more of the same. No new plans, no new ideas, nothing other
than a vague “I’ll be a bit better than the other bloke”. Hardly the
stuff to inspire the troops, and six weeks of this will have voters
begging for mercy and running to the ballot box to ensure something,
anything, interesting happens for the next three years.

The
only bigger loser than Howard today was the Sunday tabloids both
proclaiming that Howard would announce today the election was October
9, but would not visit the GG for another week. Huh? How stupid would
you have to be to fall for that one? Unless of course you had what you
thought was an impeccable source.

And who might that be Mr Milne?

“It
is understood Treasurer Peter Costello, along with a number of senior
Cabinet ministers, were prime movers behind the high- risk electoral
strategy.”

Oh dear, day one and Cossie is already
stuffing up – coming up with a dumb strategy, then leaking it to his
mouthpiece and getting it wrong. Unless of course it was leaked by
Howard’s people to discredit Cossie, either way, not a great start to
the campaign for the Treasurer and we wonder if he’ll get an invite to
any future Milne weddings.

Liberal insider hits back

A less-senior Liberal insider offers some literary psychoanalysis of our Labor writer’s contribution:

“Your
“Senior Labor Insider” is the one who has had the shaky start to
his/her Sealed Section campaign to get the alternative PrimeMinister’s ratings up.

SLI
has done a pretty shonky undergrad discourse analysis of Howard’s
presser, focusing on the words he used, how he said them etc, and
packaged it all up with a bit of amateurish reverse-psychology – but as
another writer has pointed out, Latham’s response to Howard could have
hardly been worse, and must have Labor strategists wondering what the
hell happened (AND thinking “what the hell is in store?”!)

Latham’s nine-month-only leadership sounded just that when he struggled to make any sort of attempt to sound like an inspiring alternative to Howard on Sunday.

Howard’s
reasons for voters to re-elect him were “nothing more than a vague
‘I’ll be a bit better than the other bloke'” SLI yawns at us.

Well here’s a news flash for seniors and juniors alike: That’s all
Howard HAS to be. A little bit better. That’s the margin in seats –
just a little bit better than Labor.

SLI attempted to paint the PM’s press conference as “more of
the same”, nothing new, unconvincing etc because in SLI’s view, Howard
is an unknown quantity: “what the hell does he stand for?” shouts SLI.

Oh puh-lease – come on – he’s been the Prime Minister for eight and half years! Of course the punters know what he stands for.

This, of course, is Latham’s very own Achilles Heel, voraciously gnawed at by Howard from the first opportunity today.

When Bonge on Meet the Press had earlier asked Latham would he have liked a bit more than nine months in the job to bed down his leadersip
of the ALP, Latham responded with some atrociously-spindoctored line
about “three years to get policy developed and advanced for the
benefit of the Australian people”.

[Bah – that would be all policies EXCEPT taxation and economic policies…!]

Bonge responded with “Yes, but do voters know you?”

Fast-forward
to post-election announcement Latham press conference: Not only did
Latham’s unsure, monotone voice keep cutting in and out (due to K-ruddy
mobile phones), the fact that there was no live TV meant there was
absolutely zero pictures of a young, relaxed and comfortable Latham
taking the PM’s announcement in his stride.

In addition,
the ever-helpful News Radio people kept cutting in over the top of
Latham’s answers and telling listeners who the hell it wasspeaking (not a good sign).

Worst
of all for Latham, that ever-ALP-friendly TV network – which is yours,
and mine – didn’t carry a single word of his efforts, meaning any
number of ALP supporters who view Their Network religiously would not
have seen their Man in all his nervous, jittery, spooked glory.

Howard even went on to score a fairly okay piece on 60 Minutes with the leathery Charles Wooley, although Latham then did okay with Liz Hayes.

Forget
about the relative merits of policies etc – just on logistics (and
butchered media scheduling alone), it would be fair to mark (using Grahame Morris’s inimitable daily campaign scoreboard) today’s announcement day as a clear win on points to Howard.

Latham
better wake up and smell the coffee a bit stronger in upcoming days and
weeks because snoozy little performances regurgitating
previously-failed symbolic, shambolic literary devices like Ladders of
Opportunity etc just won’t stack up against the things that matter most
to the hip-pockets of Australians. As Laura Tingle put it on Meet The
Press, “the most pointy bit for most voters is their mortgage”.

But
to do that, instead of having “had nine months travelling the country
time after time” (as Latham said on MTP), some hard work should have
been done on tax and economic policy so that Labor could make some
meaningful statements about their economic credentials which have
always been (and remain) absolute stinkers.

SLI’s Labor
puff-piece played the oldest trick in the book of the subconscious mind
– I’ll try to make out my weaknesses are in factyours, and then I will look better.

The
biggest contradiction of all however is in SLI’s attacks on Peter
Costello, and reveals a certain desperation in these early displaysof ALP apologists’ tactics.

If
the best that these turkeys can do is to build some sort of “divide and
conquer” negative campaign designed to play off Howard against Costello
(“unless of course it was leaked by Howard’s people to discredit
Cossie” whispers SLI the Snitch, in the piece) – thenmaybe the ALP have already given up on Simon Crean as a dead loss, as a complete electoral liability in the same way as in 2001.

This
exchange on Latham’s Meet the Press spot must have had the Crean-hiders
in Centenary House in a bit of lather – ‘what DO we dowith Crean NOW? Are they onto us…?”:

LAURA TINGLE: What role will Simon Crean be playing in the election campaign?

MARK
LATHAM: He will be playing the regular role of a shadow treasurer,
economic spokesperson. He will be out there advocating the sort of
things we have just been talking about.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You haven’t been hiding him?

MARK
LATHAM: Well, I think it’s more likely that Peter Costello has hit the
deck and gone to ground in recent times. I think Laura herself
pointed out in the newspaper that he hasn’t made any media interviews
for a couple of weeks there, so that’s extraordinary for a person who
is actually in the job. We’ll have Simon in the job after the next
election and doing a lot better than Peter Costello.

Maybe
Labor haven’t got, and just never will have, a fully-costed and
fully-funded tax policy at all. Maybe Labor will simply abolish the 30%
private health rebate and flush with funds they will just say, and be,
all sorts of things to all people on tax cuts – or just do aKeating and promise the world in tax cuts and then simply never deliver them.

So
it’s no surprise that Latham’s only “new” thing in his otherwise
policy-desert response (his call for a “homeland Security” debate
Rudd/Beazley/Mclelland vs Downer/Hill/Ruddock) was a clever little
device, aimed to do nothing except cover up for the shambles that is
Labor’s Alternative Treasurer, and their (lack of an) alternative tax
and economic framework to that of the Howard Government years.

Latham
would NEVER go out and call for a debate between Crean and Costello on
Labor’s economic credentials. Latham is lumpy enough when it comes to
discussions about numbers – but Crean? No way.

Latham’s
stumbling performances on MTP on questions of Budget Honesty figures
and a simple “what is fiscal policy” answer together with today’s
hesitant toe-in-the-water effort after Howard shows that the Whitlam
protégé is still just that – and thathe needs a bit moretime, and to rid himself of couple more albatrosses around his neck (like Simon Crean).

Round two of political insiders stoush

By our senior Labor insider:

Letter of the year from Simon Hoyle of Mosman (and formerly of the Fin Review) in today’s Australian: “Trust? Is the man insane as well?”

After
today’s performance on Mike Carlton, Liberals across the country will
be asking themselves the same question of Peter Costello.

Cossie
tried his trick of last March when he repeatedly refused to rule out a
leadership challenge by referring instead to his “track record of
loyalty” . After two days of damaging headlines he finally buckled and
declared he would not challenge.

Does the man learn
nothing? Apparently not. And there are clear signs Costello is already
laying the groundwork to absolve himself of the blame should the Libs
lose the election.

Yesterday we pointed out how Glenn Milne
had fingered Costello as the source of his erroneous front page claim
that Howard would announce the election date, but put off calling on
the GG until the end of the week.

Now check out this line
in today’s Milne column – Nowhere left to run but the line: “Howard
realised he needed to end the ‘phony’ election war because he wasn’t
winning it. In retrospect, Peter Costello’s private counsel – August 7
– would have been a better option.”

Day two and this is Costello’s record so far:

  • Needlessly
    reinforces Labor’s major campaign theme that a vote for Howard is a
    vote for Costello by refusing to rule out a leadership challenge.
  • Begins preparing the groundwork for blame shifting if the Libs lose.

Remember,
in 2001 it was Costello who almost single handedly turned an unlosable
position for the Libs into a narrow Labor win with his Telstra gaffe.
In his eagerness to attack Labor’s costings he inadvertently revealed
that Howard was committed to the full sale of Telstra and even gave
away the price and the date. Kirsten Livermore, Michelle O’Byrne and a
swag of Labor MPs in marginal seats say a little prayer to Peter
Costello every night for that blunder. Paul Neville for one has never
forgiven Costello for it, as he blames it for almost costing him his
seat. It’s one of the principle reasons why the Nats and regional MPs
like Warren Entsch detest Costello.

From
inside the Labor bunker at the last election I can tell you there were
only two things going for us, and they damn near allowed us to snatch
victory – the GST and Telstra and both were due to Peter Costello.

It’s far too early to tell at this stage who will win but here’s a couple of very safe predictions:

  • Crean won’t play a big part in the election campaign, but after his performance so far, neither will Peter Costello;
  • There will be a debate at the Press Club in the final fortnight of the election campaign between the two ;
  • If Cossie feels all hope is lost, he will begin slinging everything overboard to protect himself in the final few days.

The
only bigger fool than Costello so far is the so-called “Liberal
insider” who wrote a whole column for Crikey today defending Cossie. Oh
dear…

The not-so-senior Liberal hits back:

As
a postscript to that pathetic critique of Howard’s words by a “Senior
Labor Insider” or S-L-I (<SLI> was critical of Howard using
“absolutely” instead of a straight “yes”) – it IS interesting to note
that just before Mark Latham tells the first big lie of the campaign
(where he denies toi John Laws part of Labor’s own platform – the
national 0.1% levy for entitlements), he uses the word “absolutely” to
fend off a question that will haunt the ALP throughout this campaign”.

Will
Latham in power do a deal with the states to put up the GST to 12.5% or
15%, (and thus fix all the promise affordability problems)? Is it now
OK to use “absolutely” instead of “yes”…?

From the John Laws-Mark Latham interview:

LAWS: Okay. Will you guarantee that the GST rate won’t rise?

LATHAM:
Absolutely. We’ve got no intention of increasing that. I mean we
campaigned against it for so long, we’ve certainly got no intention of
increasing the rate.

LAWS: And what about plans, we hear mumbling about plans for a national payroll tax?

LATHAM:
No there’s no such proposal. That’s a myth. If anyone’s putting that
around I have not heard that suggestion before and Labor’s got
absolutely no intention of doing that or anything like it.

Sure, Mark – absolutely Mark, absolutely….


Senior Labor insider on the GST

Here’s another fearless prediction – Howard and Cossie won’t be taking
up the NSSLI (not so senior Liberal insider’s) suggestion to run a
scare campaign about Labor raising the GST. (It’s becoming very obvious
why they are an NSSLI and not an SLI).

Why? Well it might just remind the punters about who gave them the GST
and I very much doubt Mark Textor’s polling has found that to be the
next Tampa. There’s as much chance if it happening as there is of
Howard promising to use the money from the Telstra sale for a big
election bribe.

Not to mention the fact it would expose Howard and Cossie as liars
because they both promised us there was no way the GST could ever be
raised and we know they wouldn’t lie would they!

The claim that you can only raise the GST with the support of all the
states is actually the biggest lie of the lot. The only thing that
stops the GST rising is an act of Federal Parliament that says you need
the support of all the states. Therefore, if you had the votes in the
House and the Senate to raise the GST, you would also have the votes in
the House and the Senate to repeal the law that says you need the
support of the states!

Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans nailed that lie five years ago when he
pointed out the Constitution makes clear federal law takes precedence
over state law. Thus if any federal government wished to raise the GST,
the constitution ensures no state can stop them.

It’s the same lie as the law that supposedly ensures the flag can’t be
changed without a referendum. Again, any party with the numbers in both
houses to change the flag, has the numbers to repeal the law that says
they can’t. If Howard had really been serious about locking in the GST
he would have had a referendum and put it in the constitution.

It’s all moot though because there’s no way the Greens or what is left
of the Democrats after October 9 are going to let that happen again.

Labor insider on the GST rate

Here’s another fearless prediction – Howard and Cossie won’t be taking
up the NSSLI (not so senior liberal insider’s) suggestion to run a
scare campaign about Labor raising the GST. (It’s becoming very obvious
why they are an NSSLI and not an SLI).

Why? Well it might just remind the punters about who gave them the GST
and I very much doubt Mark Textor’s polling has found that to be the
next Tampa.

There’s as much chance if it happening as there is of Howard promising
to use the money from the Telstra sale for a big election bribe.

Not to mention the fact it would expose Howard and Cossie as liars
because they both promised us there was no way the GST could ever be
raised and we know they wouldn’t lie would they!

The claim that you can only raise the GST with the support of all the
states is actually the biggest lie of the lot. The only thing that
stops the GST rising is an act of Federal Parliament that says you need
the support of all the states. Therefore, if you had the votes in the
House and the Senate to raise the GST, you would also have the votes in
the House and the Senate to repeal the law that says you need the
support of the states!

Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans nailed that lie five years ago when he
pointed out the Constitution makes clear federal law takes precedence
over state law. Thus if any federal government wished to raise the GST,
the constitution ensures no state can stop them.

It’s the same lie as the law that supposedly ensures the flag can’t be
changed without a referendum. Again, any party with the numbers in both
houses to change the flag, has the numbers to repeal the law that says
they can’t.

If Howard had really been serious about locking in the GST he would have had a referendum and put it in the constitution.

It’s all moot though because there’s no way the Greens or what is left
of the Democrats after October 9 are going to let that happen again.


More bile from the senior Labor insider!

The not-so-senior Liberal Insider writes: SLI can’t help his/her basic
Labor instinct – s/he is forced to “play the man” in response, and not
the ball. Happily, I admit I am not that “senior”.

Clearly for SLI, however, seniority does not equate to any shred of
influence – or Latham would have heeded SLI’s advice to answer the
questions from Laws with a “YES” and not “absolutely”.

SLI had a good twenty-fours to pass on that pearl of wisdom in some
sort of briefing to the Great Leader (before Latham got flogged, live,
by Laws on a key plank of his party’s OWN POLICY.)

Ah, but alas, he failed. Not much influence there.

BUT … SLI HAS been successful in maintaining the rage of Labor’s
hate campaign against Peter Costello. And this is something SLI has
picked up so well from Iron Mark.

The Liberals’ Robert Hill illustrated this well in the Senate yesterday when he referred to Latham’s passion for “hating”:

Sen Hill: “It is, of course, because that is the nature of Mr Latham.
That is his style. As he has said on so many occasions, he is a hater.
He said to the Bulletin on 26 June 2002:

I’m a hater. Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike
The other side with intensity. And the more I see of them the more I
hate them.

Again, on 26 June 2002 on 2GB he said:

… everyone’s got hate in their lives … it’s just part of life. I
hope my little boy hates a Liberal Prime Minister who sells out our
national interests. I grew up in a family that used to hate Bob Menzies.

Is this the Mr Latham who goes on television each night talking about
reading stories to his children before bed and about the
responsibilities of parenthood? Is this really the same man who at the
same time boasts that he is a hater and wishes to turn his children
into haters? This is why Mr Latham wants to run a campaign in the
gutter on this occasion rather than face up to addressing the
alternatives.”

This explains why SLI is focused so heavily on playing Peter Costello –
and not on the tax and economic issues that Labor are still so silent
on.

What does SLI think about a debate between Peter Costello and Simon
Crean on the fundamentals on economic management? Has SLI even SEEN
Simon Crean anywhere around the corridors of Centenary House? Maybe SLI
can explain why it was Bob McMullan – and NOT the Alternative Treasurer
– who rushed out in the media to confirm that sneaky Labor were going
to try to avoid the Charter of Budget Honesty and NOT get their
promises properly costed by Treasury.

Why isn’t Crean talking about this stuff? Is the Labor internal polling
really THAT BAD on Simon Crean? Is the “trust” stuff ALREADY starting
to bite?

A couple of exchanges from the Laws show were interesting today:

Laws: … the number of e-mails coming into this place in relation to
not voting for Mark Latham are considerably more than the ones that
came yesterday from people who would not vote for John Howard …

Caller: …if Labor did get into power you would then have the
situation where you have all Labor states and the Federal Government
and if the Government chose to raise the GST they would be in a
position where they could do it and that is frightening…

Laws: Among these hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of e-mails I’ve
got here, a lot of people are very concerned about Australia being
totally governed by Labor Governments and I can understand that concern
for the very reason you just gave us Andrew.

Email (female) to Laws: Latham is a bully, even to members of his own party. I don’t like bullies – especially drunken ones.

Laws: It seems to me that a lot of people simply don’t trust Mark Latham.

So, despite SLI’s gloss and spin, the raising of the GST rate is not
some sort of “scaremongering” – it’s a real concern – especially in
Labor heartland.

PS. As for invoking Harry Evans in the whole raising the GST rate
debate, I’m sure the fastidiously anti-political Evans would be JUST
thrilled to have his name dragged into SLI’s hate campaign.

The point is, with all States and territories AND the Feds Labor,
Latham would have no objections about State law or any of those other
red herrings SLI would want you, dear reader, to run off chasing. He
would raise the GST to 12.5% or 15% to pay for all the desperate deals
he will make to get into power.

Getting the GST rate amendment legislation through the Senate would be
Latham’s only problem. If, as all the pundits are predicting, the Dems
will be wiped out (along with a couple of Independents and minors that
CAN actually be negotiated with), it’s likely that the Greens with a
couple of extra Greens Senators) will hold that balance.

Latham has already flagged this week some sort of policy announcement
about Tasmanian forests – and Labor are already on the record as
supporting other major Green policy objectives.

Who would he have to be dealing with in the Senate to get his GST rate legislation through?