Bernard Langan’s Iron Mark obit, Loner, provides a detailed
account of Latham’s four main blunders as leader – the economy, tax
reform, the US alliance and the balance between jobs and the
environment.

“Each is a telling saga about a frontline issue,” Paul Kelly observed when the book came out.

“The worst of the four decisions,” he said, “was Latham’s deliberate
choice to abandon the economy as an issue to Howard… Latham’s
economic tactics defied both common sense and his own previous policy
beliefs.”

All of which makes Kelly’s piece in the Oz today – Economics the key to Opposition victory
– worth a look. He talks to the opposition finance spokesman Lindsay
Tanner, an MP once coupled with Iron Mark as the two representatives
of new Labor thinking.

The central focus of our policy development is not going to
be John Howard, it’s going to be Australia,” Tanner says. “We’ve spent
way too much energy asking ourselves: ‘What’s wrong with John Howard,’
and nowhere near enough energy asking: ‘What’s wrong with Australia.’ We
have to correct that.

The first question we must ask is what’s right for the country. The
trap we’ve got to avoid is asking ourselves what’s going to win us
votes? Of course, we can’t ignore that question because we’re
politicians. But a lot of what’s gone wrong for Labor over the past
nine years is because we got those two questions the wrong way around.
We’ve too often focused on what are marketing questions.

Radical enough? Just wait. Tanner – a member of Labor’s left – has more to say:

The area where I am most committed is spending, and it is
important that Labor is not a megaphone for disgruntled producer
interests. We must always remember that Labor is the party of working
people. Our message will be that spending should be reduced and that
there is a huge amount of waste, particularly in Howard’s regionally
driven pork-barrelling programs. These things need to be cleaned up.

My starting point is that middle Australia is paying too much tax. The
primary role I’ve got is to get spending down. We call the Howard
Government the highest taxing government in our history for the good
reason that it is, and the onus on us is to reduce the burden. In a
situation where you have a government rolling in money and spending
large amounts of it wastefully, it is untenable for us to say our
approach is to tax people more and spend more.

Now that’s what I call an alternative government!

Peter Fray

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