John Howard is on Mark Twain’s side, if not quite as eloquent. “It is not best that we all should think alike,” wrote the American, “it is differences of opinion that make horse races.”

In his major speech of the weekend, delivered to the NSW State Council of the Liberal Party, Mr Howard spent much of his time bemoaning the fact that Labor leader Kevin Rudd was trying hard to stop this election being a horse race at all. The Prime Minister was not referring to the size of the Labor opinion poll lead but the persistence with which Mr Rudd keeps thinking alike.

“You should observe very carefully the behaviour of my opponent,” Mr Howard told the party faithful, “because often it’s not quite how it appears. Often the case is that we make an announcement which is clearly in the public interest and the Leader of the Opposition immediately says ‘I agree with that and I think Mr Howard is right’ and people say ‘that’s good, we should have a positive and not a negative Opposition’. But then things start to change, then others in the Labor Party start to go out and start to run interference on the policy, they start to undermine it, they start to attack it and that’s what happens when you have Labor governments everywhere, they can have it both ways.”

The exasperation at not being able to “wedge” (to use the current political in-word) Mr Rudd was apparent in the Prime Minister’s speech. There was the frustrating example of the national water plan with the promise to solve the problems of the Murray Darling Basin. Mr Rudd agreed with it but shadow ministers raised such awkward questions as the absence of proper costing and the avoidance of detailed Cabinet consideration.

Mr Howard might have added that his crash-through-or-crash approach to federalism might still crash because of those pesky Victorians wanting to protect their own state interest.

Then there was protecting Aboriginal children from abuse. Mr Rudd agreed it was a good thing, but Howard said:

…within two days of my making that announcement, or three days, the Western Australian Premier goes on the Today program and he said this is outrageous, it’s another Tampa. In other words, Mr Rudd had got the Western Australian Premier to go out there and say the exact opposite of what he’d been trying to communicate to the Australian people and a few days afterwards the Premier of South Australia Mike Rann went on television and he said, ‘Oh look this is all shock and awe’, which was a clear reference to the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

How very unfair! Just like Mr Rudd is playing a double game in the area of national security. “Of course,” said Mr Howard, “[he] poses as somebody who always supports what the Government is doing to tighten security and to deal with potential terrorist threats… He’s out there saying I support the Government but he’s got some of his underlings out there like the Queensland Premier trying to undermine what the Government is doing.”

There is no doubt that Mr Howard is finding the Rudd small target harder to hit than that of his predecessor Kim Beazley.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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