Paul Keating used to fancy himself as the great economics tutor of the nation who persuaded ordinary people to leave behind their baggage of prejudice against competition and recognise the need for global competitiveness. Perhaps for a time he did.
Certainly there was no immediate revolt against the tough medicine he administered which began limiting wage rises to productivity increases and forced the masses into compulsory saving through superannuation. But once the hardship had brought forth the promised better times, the mob wreaked its revenge and sent Prime Minister Paul into the sullen exile from which he is still shouting.
Peter Costello as Treasurer, with Prime Minister John Howard as teacher in chief, had some success as the Keating successor. Getting the electorate to accept a promise broken by introducing a goods and services tax was no mean feat. And there has been no national shut down as the rights of workers have been reduced in the name of continued international competitiveness.
There are signs, however, that the underlying resentment at change that finally struck down their predecessor is awaiting Costello and Howard. Once again it is emerging when the fruits of their good work are upon the country.
Labor Leader Kevin Rudd seems aware of the opportunity that good economic times are giving him. With things going well people seem to be telling the pollsters that they are prepared to take the risk of a little paying back.
To encourage them the Opposition is skillfully finding examples in the economy that build on the perhaps misguided belief of people that they are not sharing adequately in the benefits of continued economic growth.
At the Sydney Institute last night, Deputy Opposition Leader Julia Gillard was singing in harmony with Rudd’s tune — “Many believe they are now doing worse than their neighbours. This is a raw nerve in the community, because while many have benefited from economic growth – something we celebrate – a lot have started to struggle.” — while floating the idea of a “social inclusion board”.
Talking about housing affordability and food prices has a populist appeal and Kevin Rudd is doing well at it. Toss in a little scaremongering about what might happen to wages and conditions should things ever turn down again and there is a good foundation to lessen the electoral advantage that Costello and Howard have built up as economic managers.