The Treasurer admitted that Australian Idol can move him to tears to Kyle and Jackie O this morning – but what else do we know about Dollar Sweetie?

It seems that all we can say for certain is that Peter Costello is big on glass jaw – and very light on for ideas.

The Treasurer has taken offence at the complaints from the Centre for Independent Studies about “big government conservatism”.

So he’s written an article for its journal, Policy, arguing government spending as a proportion of GDP has gone down. Like all good political responses, it’s very selective.

The Treasurer has chosen to completely ignore the cultural aspect of the CIS critique.

Crikey has argued for many years that the Howard government is neither liberal nor conservative. Instead, we maintain that its underpinnings are populist authoritarian. The amount of centralist control the Howard Government exercises is anathema to conservatives.

And its tax and spend – or tax and bribe – policies are anathema to the economic liberals of the CIS. The Howard Government practices a patronising paternalism. It bribes key voting demographics with their own money.

It denies them choice and that is fundamentally illiberal.

“The Fraser government—often criticised for not advancing a small government agenda—was much more constrained,” the CIS’ Andrew Norton wrote in Policy last year.

“Unlike Fraser, Howard has enjoyed good economic times. In theory at least, reliance on government should have eased as unemployment dropped and real wages grew.”

In Quadrant this month, former Treasury secretary John Stone describes the economic attitudes of the Fraser government as “a combination of St Augustine (“O Lord, make me pure, but not yet, O Lord, not yet”) and NIMBY (by all means cut expenditure, but Not In My Back Yard)”.

What’s Peter Costello’s excuse? He knows he has a perception problem. That’s why he has felt compelled to write something for Policy.

But he can’t even fall back on the St Augustine excuse.

He holds the purse strings in a government that is as crassly populist as Australian Idol.

Perhaps that’s why the program makes him cry.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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