Here’s a question that hasn’t been asked on any of those glitzy new TV quiz shows: Which Australian political party is the true conservative, pro-business, forward-looking, family friendly, fiscally responsible party? (1) The Liberal Party; (2) The National Party; (3) The Labor Party; (4) All three parties.

Answer: (4).

As the shape and tone of Kevin Rudd’s new Labor Party becomes clearer by the day, the most striking aspect of the evolution is how easily its solidly conservative agenda could sit under the policy umbrella of the Coalition parties.

Education, climate change, moving closer to the corporate sector, rebuilding Australia’s infrastructure, promoting enterprise bargaining, coping with an ageing population, replacing revenues when the resources boom ends – read through Rudd’s “reform agenda” speech to the Business Council last night and you could be looking at the words of John Howard or any of his ministers.

And for further overwhelming evidence of the righting of Rudd, there is his appointment yesterday of arch business establishment figure Rod Eddington to chair Labor’s “council of business advisers” and have an occasional seat at the cabinet table.

That deviously successful political strategist Dick Morris had a word for American politicians who misappropriate their opponents’ policies: triangulation. In the Australian (and British) context a better word might be interchangeability. Or perhaps highway robbery.

The differences between Howard and Rudd — in policy, philosophy, demeanour, respectability, style and substance — are shrinking to the extent that if Rudd lost most of his hair, thickened up his eyebrows and acquired some less trendy eyewear he would almost become … John Howard.

Peter Fray

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