Much ink has been spilled over the last few weeks on the question of whether the Rudd campaign was a cunning News Limited plot, with the speculation spilling over into the pages of the Fin Review, which moved Rupert Murdoch himself to deny that he was looking for a leadership switch as a pretext for turning on the Coalition. Such conspiracy theories are far fetched.

There is no doubt, though, that the attack lines that will be used against Rudd have been well and truly signalled in The Australian.

When Kim Beazley replaced Mark Latham as leader, business groups were quick to assert that Labor could only regain “economic credibility” by ditching its support for collective bargaining and distancing itself from the union movement. The irony, of course, was that Latham himself was probably the Labor leader most likely to do this.

Beazley would have won no friends in corporate circles, or among those like Paul Kelly whose constant refrain is that Labor’s path back to power is to swim in Tony Blair’s wake, by promising to rip up AWAs.

These themes were heavily pounded on News Limited keyboards over the last few days.

The Australian editorialised on Saturday:

Instead of remaining captive to fringe thinking and the demands of environmentalists and union bosses, Labor must show itself as a new ALP for a new age, the age of globalisation and rapid technological change.

Paul Kelly chimed in, calling for Rudd to devise “policies for the future”. Kelly’s criticism of Rudd’s agreement with Beazley’s IR policy and his references to globalisation would have made it clear what he thinks they are. But he spelled it out explicitly, just in case anyone was in any doubt as to the sort of “New Labor” he would like to see:

There is no policy difference between Beazley and Rudd on industrial relations, just a message that the political and industrial wings remain locked together a century after arbitration’s inauguration. Labor’s refusal to redefine this relationship is a contemporary political disaster that doesn’t need Tony Blair as confirming witness.

The government will run on the backward-looking line, seeking to embed Labor’s links with the union movement as the “political disaster” Kelly thinks it is. The Liberal Party’s cutesy web graphic is only the first shot. Rudd will be portrayed as untried and untested and subject to union influence, in an attempt to turn WorkChoices into a positive for Howard, just as “trust” was in 2004. And ritualistically, the first calls to ditch Labor’s IR policy have been made by a New South Wales business group.

If Rudd ever believed that he had the support of News, he’d better think again quickly.

Peter Fray

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