Robert Manne got all high fallutin’ about Kevin Rudd and his battle of ideas in The Age yesterday:

Because he has married the ideas of social justice and the idea of the defence of family and community with the old Australian idea of an intelligent, activist state and the more recent commitment to fiscal conservatism, he has begun to fashion what he thinks of as an unfamiliar centre ground of politics, potentially taking his party and his country to a new territory, beyond both left and right.

In the Oz, though, Steve Lewis had a simpler statement. “Most voters just want better services and lower taxes,” he wrote.

Just think about the ways in which the government spends our money. In Monday’s Crikey Glenn Dyer provided us with what could have been a newly discovered Yes Minister script – the details of the Australian Communications and Media Authority inquiry into reality TV. Have a look at the media release. You’ll appreciate the irony.

ACMA are offering up a pile of bureaucratic bullsh-t on the Minister’s orders. They’re using reams and reams of ponderous public sector paperwork to swat a gnat. The gnat’s name? Big Brother. Big Brother goes after Big Brother. You couldn’t make it up.

A fortnight ago it was barely reported that public service numbers are now greater than they were when the Howard Government was elected. Labor public administration spokesman Kelvin Thomson commented “This is not a lean and mean government. This is a big government that rewards its supporters with government largesse”.

He’s actually more on the mark than his leader, with his high fallutin’ talk about neo-liberals and where Freidrich Hayek got it wrong.

Some of those neo-liberals – like the trio of Greg Lindsay, Barry Maley and Peter Saunders from the Centre for Independent Studies – have a pretty sharp critique of the current government of their own. “The Howard Government is spending record sums of taxpayers’ money providing for families who could provide for themselves if only it taxed them less,” they wrote in The Australian yesterday. “A pro-family policy does not necessitate a high-spending policy. We might have hoped a genuinely liberal government would understand this.”

The Howard Government plays patronage with our money to stay in power. Like all decisions, this carries an opportunity cost. That opportunity cost is real reform. The Howard Government uses money that could be put to genuine reform that would enrich all Australians for crass political bribes that increase our dependence on governments playing favourites.

This weakens social capital. It weakens the social contract between governments and the governed. And there are social justice issues here, too. Governments playing favourites is simply not just.

In the 1980s, Labor delivered significant economic reforms. They were radical because they were market orientated, but they were good Labor policies as they have delivered more wealth to more people.

Liberals – Treasurer John Howard – had proved incapable of undertaking these reforms, although they knew they were needed.

And this is the challenge for Kevin Rudd. If he – if Craig Emerson and Lindsay Tanner – are all they’re cracked up to be, they need to deliver the next wave of change.

They need to deliver policies that increase personal wealth and national wealth and don’t treat punters like mugs.

Kevin Rudd has made a good showing in this week’s Newspoll, with a bigger bounce than Latham’s.

Voters know they’re being played with by Howard. They know they’re being used and being ripped off.

Rudd must remember. They want better services and lower taxes. They need simple and straightforward messages – message that contrast with a 10 year old government weighed down by bureaucratic bumph.

Peter Fray

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