Crikey’s editor did his bit to help fill the seats at the Brisbane Town
Hall for the Liberal Party campaign launch. Here’s what he made
of the event:

The drunken sailor cranks it up

By Crikey editor Stephen Mayne

It what might be the last roll of the dice for John Howard after more
than 30 years in public life, our Prime Minister was out there spending
like the proverbial drunken sailor again today in a policy packed
Liberal Party campaign launch in Brisbane.

Journalists were feeling a little
overwhelmed in the aftermath clutching more than an inch worth of
speeches and policy documents which surely have pushed the projected
budget outcomes in the forward estimates back into deficit.

Choosing to have the launch in
Brisbane was always a risk and the buffoons who run the Queensland
Liberal and National Parties weren’t even able to pack out the Brisbane
Town Hall. Whilst about 500 largely elderly party faithful turned up
there was almost 100 empty seats, particularly in the upper decks.

Still, they cheered along on cue as
new Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman (15 minutes), Peter Costello
(10 minutes and still not on the Liberal website at 5pm), John Anderson (20 minutes – too long) and John Howard (a powerful, compelling and reckless 61 minutes), pounded away on all the key messages for almost two hours.

The personal affection that both
Howard and Costello feel for Anderson was clearly evident. Costello
declared he was someone “I respect to the core as a human being” and
the PM described him as “my friend”, something Cossie didn’t get from
the PM after he again allowed leadership and succession questions to
emerge on Sunday Sunrisethis morning.

The use of Campbell Newman was
interesting and shows just how desperately depleted the Coalition is in
Queensland. If John Howard loses on October 9, Newman will be the most
senior conservative politician in office anywhere in Australia – a
scary prospect indeed.

The lightweight conservative heavies
in Queensland such as Bob Quinn, Lawrenece Springborg and Michael
Caltabiano gave themselves front row treatment – and in their midst sat
Rupert Murdoch’s brother-in-law and Federal Liberal Treasurer John

Queensland Senator George “lying
rodent” Brandis was seen well back in a loud orange tie and not within
range of the PM. Similarly, Michael “Khemlani” Johnson, member for Ryan
and incumbent Federal MP most deserving of defeat, was kept at a safe
distance from all the key players but still stood out like a sore thumb
in his bright yellow t-shirt with “Johnson” emblazened all over it in
black print.

Christian Kerr’s analysis

Political editor Christian Kerr writes:

Remember all that talk over “John Howard’s third term agenda”. We
finally learned what that was back at the Budget in May – tax and
spend, whatever the consequences. The fourth term agenda has been
unveiled today – spend even more, particularly when there’s a special
iterest group to porkbarrel or a wedge to fund.

Whatever happened to microeconomic reform? Whatever happened to the
barbecue stopper of a new tax and family payment system? After a lot of
huffing and puffing on that front, the closest we’ve seen was the
policy dropped a few weeks ago by that bloke named Latham. Oh for a
Peter Walsh to come and rain on the parade – with all the force of some
of those recent Carribean hurricane.

Virtually all the private sector economists have been mute until this
week, with the honourable exception of Stephen Koukoulas. And blessing
on the six economists – Nicholas Gruen, chief executive of Lateral
Economics, Vince FitzGerald from Allen Consulting, Peter Jonson, chair
emeritus of the Melbourne Institute (and Henry Thornton), Allan Fels,
professor of economics at the Australian and New Zealand School of
Government, John Freebairn, professor of economics at the University of
Melbourne and Glenn Withers, professor of public policy at the
Australian National University, for this timely warning they delivered in The Australian last week.

The political parties are in danger of frittering away the proceeds of
economic reforms through spending promises, they warned. The six urged
that our politicians should salt away bigger surpluses to cover the
next economic downturn and do more on tax reform.

They warned that 20 years of economic
reform was at risk, with Australia’s share of world exports dropping to
less than 1 per cent for the first time, and our foreign debt rising by
almost $50 billion a year.

Only a few brave economic writers are prepared to act as Jeremiahs – like The Sydney Morning Herald’s
Ross Gittins. Look at what he had to say yesterday: “Have you noticed?
John Howard wants to make the economy the central issue in the election
campaign but, apart from proclaiming himself the best person to manage
it, he’s got nothing much to say on the subject.

“Conservative politicians are always
making speeches about how we should concentrate on increasing wealth,
not just sharing it around.

“But in this campaign Mr Howard is doing the opposite. He’s doling out
money from the budget surplus to 101 special interest groups and
marginal electorates, but ignoring the question of what we must do to
keep the good times rolling.

“He warns us not to be complacent about our current economic success,
but all he means by that is don’t vote for Mark Latham. In reality,
he’s showing all the signs of taking our success for granted and
assuming it will go on forever…”

Read the lot here and wait for his next column. He should go off like Krakatoa.

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

Political Editor Christian Kerr writes:

The headline is everywhere today – but what else can you say? Talking
about big taxing, big spending Liberals confuses punters. They think
you’re Rush Limbaugh trying an Australian accent.

But what an ad you could make. A dumb sea shanty over gawky shots of
Howard with some superimposed negative headlines from the economics
writers. C’mon Tim Gartrell! Do it, do it.

In the last 24 hours John Howard has gone on a multi-billion dollar
spending spree. He is already Australia’s highest taxing Prime
Minister. He’s increased 120 new taxes since he came to office and
introduced the GST which you still pay on everything you buy. In the
past three years he’s taxed and taxed and taxed.

Now suddenly it’s all spend and spend. He’s taken it off you for years
in high taxes. Now he’s doling it out and expects you to be grateful.
But how useful will that money be to you when this man’s desperate
attempts to win an election force interest rates up at the end of the

Paul Kelly has got the politics right today: “This is scripted as John
Howard’s knockout punch. He knows the fourth election is the hardest
and he won’t die wondering.

“It is the final re-election document of a relentless and tenacious
political warrior. It typifies Howard’s politics — the big spend, tax
breaks, precise targeting and his own values of family, choice and

“Howard won’t leave Mark Latham any leeway. He campaigns as the better
economic manager, the low-interest-rate specialist and the bigger
spender. Nice if you can get away with it.

“Howard thinks he can and he’s probably right. He lives off the capital
from his sound economic performance over eight years. The constant
refrain in Howard’s $5.9 billion bid for re-election is that such
benefits are only possible because of the Coalition’s quality economic

“History may yet record that the fiscal dividends from our greatest
growth cycle in half a century were chiefly devoted to making Howard
our second longest-serving Prime Minister. The full price will only be
exacted later…”

The full yarn is at – Humble, but killer instinct – except it’s missing one important point. Just how expensive will this “full price” be? What about the economics?

All Kelly will say is “Howard’s message is ‘don’t risk it’. Yet
Howard’s own policies are not without risk, despite the legitimacy of
his claim to have created a far stronger and more prosperous nation.”
That’s wimping it, Paul.

Mark Latham’s message is surely right: “The Government is trying to
defy economic gravity. The truth is, an unfunded spending spree of this
size puts upward pressure on rates.”

His description of the duplication of the TAFE system by establishing a
new federal system of vocational education as an “attempt to reinvent
the wheel” is right, too. “We’ve got an established TAFE system in this
country – wouldn’t it make sense to invest in it?” he says. Don’t we
already have enough wasteful doubling up in education? And wouldn’t it
be better on state and federal issues if the Prime Minister was to bite
the bullet, as Tony Abbott suggested, and stop the buck-passing and
duplication in health, say?

And we did we say yesterday about keeping an eye out for what Ross Gittins would have to say?

“A Martian would find it amazing. Here’s John Howard spending money
like water as he seeks to buy his re-election, while claiming that only
he can be trusted to keep the budget in perpetual surplus and thus keep
interest rates low forever,” he writes in The Sydney Morning Herald in – Labor isn’t a big economic risk.

“Brushing aside the quite dishonest depiction of the factors that drive
interest rates, this is the gaping contradiction of the election
campaign. The man’s hypocrisy is breathtaking.

“And yet he gets away with it. Why is there no surge of cynicism from
talkback radio? Why aren’t even the political commentators pointing to
the glaring disconnect between what’s being done and what’s being said…

“And get this: it’s not just the ignorant punters. Whether they realise
it or not, the business community, the financial markets and the media
economic commentators apply the same double standard.

“They’re invariably terribly suspicious of Labor, wary of any signs
that it may stuff up, while being terribly tolerant of the Libs’ little
peccadilloes – ‘boys will be boys’…

“Rather, everyone’s kept a straight face while Peter Costello’s tried
without ceasing (and so far without success) to find the Black Hole in
Labor’s costings. It’s occurred to no one to point to his double
standard: his side doesn’t really have savings measures to be costed…”

Read it. Read it. Read it!

Of course, we all know what Howard’s reaction will be if he gets over
the line when the economic chickens come home to roost. “Hullo? Hullo?”

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey