Neville Wran once paid Gough Whitlam a suitably imperial compliment: “It was said of Caesar Augustus that he found Rome brick, and left it marble. It will be said of Gough Whitlam that he found the outer suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane unsewered, and left them fully flushed.”

Kevin Rudd, it appears, wants to get elected by plugging the leaks. Last night, in his Budget response, he promised $250 million to fix the problem.

Michelle Grattan calls it “a populist gesture” in The Age today.

“There was so much in the budget that Labor had to agree with that Rudd took the path of least resistance last night,” she goes on to say. “He did not bother with a critique of it all. Surely it was the best compliment Peter Costello has received all week.”

Grattan concludes: “It was a competent performance, but it was less a budget reply than a mini campaign speech off the shelf.”

Isn’t that what the opposition leader is supposed to do – make a pitch to voters?

The view from the Press Gallery is that Labor has had a pretty ordinary week. They’ve been under attack on industrial relations, unsure of their policy direction. Ditto with full fee paying university places. Their immediate budget response has been criticised for being weak and lacking detail.

But that’s the view from the Gallery. The next election won’t be won on the op-ed pages of the broadsheets.

Matt Price is more on the money with his observation today, “Watch the commercial television news and you get a better idea of the reason behind Kevin Rudd’s popularity… When Rudd’s cheesy countenance pops up during these frenetic bulletins, as it does regularly, he tends to arrive like a zephyr on a blistering hot day.”

All the polls so far this year suggest that voters simply aren’t listening to John Howard any more. He knows that. That’s why his budget was firmly pitched at the middle income families and older Australians who have given him four terms in office.

If they’ve stopped listening, though, his message won’t get through.