After Australian
wire service AAP announced earlier this month that they would feed
alternating weekly columns from both the Prime Minister and Opposition
Leader to their subscribers, Crikey became quite excited at the
prospect of a regular weekly slug-fest between Howard and Beazley.

And
now after one column from each of the leaders, and although AAP
editor-in-chief Tony Gillies assured us that the big boys wouldn’t
wouldn’t be going each other, only the issues, we thought we’d compare
and contrasts how this week’s Beazley column stacks up against the
PM’s. Aimed at rural publications which have little access to the PM
and opposition leader, And it no surprise that the first column from
both leaders used the platform to bang on about IR reforms.

Howard,
the consummate professional he is, doesn’t move an inch from from the
message the government’s been hammering into the Australian public, but
he does give it a nice Piers or Bolt-like tweak, using some nice
colloquialisms and politically informal turns-of-phrase.

Yes
we’ve performed well, but we “need to do more,” says Howard, and “now
is not the time – in a policy sense – for a cup of tea and a good lie
down.” The Prime Minister advisers know their audience, and the PM goes
through, example by example, how regional and rural Australia will
benefit from his reforms.

“The great Australian tradition of a
‘fair go’ will not be dispatched,” says Howard, who uses his platform
to put the boot into Keating – who wasn’t the most popular PM around
the bush – but steers clear of the unions. He finishes with a slightly
memorable summation of his whole workplace ideology: “in my book, a job
beats the dole any day.”

But poor Kim, on the other hand, is
bogged down by some mundane language and an off-centre workplace
message that shifts from the opposition’s strongest area – industrial
relations – to one of their weakest – education and training. Poor Kim
doesn’t tell us what’s wrong with the IR reforms, because he assumes
everyone already knows.

“No-one will have missed the
bombardment of television ads and the full-page, four-page spreads in
their local newspapers, however big or small,” says Beazley. “Few will
have missed the fiery debates we’ve been having in parliament.” Really
Kim? Beazley seem to have missed a prime opportunity to set out the
issues and offer a rebuttal to the coalition’s reforms.

Like
Howard, Beazley dredges up the rural examples to explain how his Skills
and School Blueprint is the real path to economic prosperity, because,
as he puts it, “Labor is deeply committed to a high skills path to
prosperity, not the low wage road.” Beazley’s gone out on a
Latham-esque tangent, when all he needs to do is back up the
union-drive

Round one, definitely to Howard. And keep your eye out for more fun as more and more papers start to pick up the columns.

AAP’s
Gillies told Crikey that the new columns would probably take a few
weeks to build steam, but said he’d was pleased with the response thus
far, saying papers like the Townsville Bulletin and Rural Press
publications had decided to run with the first Howard piece, along with
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“I just saw there was a gap there
for regional editors… (and) the idea behind the column is to have it
on subjects relevant to those markets,” he told Crikey this morning.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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