Labor’s Tassie tactics have provoked an outburst from Michelle Grattan: “Opposition leader John Howard in 1995-96 practised ‘me-tooism’, while Kim Beazley came under fire when he made himself a small target,” she writes.

“Kevin Rudd puts both into the shade. On issues where he doesn’t want a contest, he just leaves the playing field.”

It must be the way Cobber writes them. “Politician practices cynical self-interest” doesn’t seem like much of a headline to us at Crikey.

Kevin Rudd seems to be practising a crude form of utilitarianism. He believes winning the greatest number of seats will guarantee the greatest happiness for the ALP – and is determined not to let anything get in his way.

It seems to be working in the polls. But it might get slightly more problematic as the actual election date approaches.

Might. Labor’s poll pitch is essentially based on it being time for a change. That, in itself, isn’t much of a case – but it might be enough with the government on the nose the way it seems to be.

And if it isn’t? That’s when the points of difference come into play. IR is the most obvious one. That’s a real danger for Labor.

Former NSW Labor state minister Rodney Cavalier mused in the Southern Highlands branch magazine a couple of months ago “Unions are not a part of Australia’s future. Unions are actively disliked by the vast majority of working Australians. After four election wins, our party is kidding only itself if it thinks that Howard’s appeal to wage earners is a passing fancy.”

Cavalier says Labor is correct to concentrate on “the rights of individual employees and how the new workplace laws send them back to serfdom”. But then he talks about “the disgust and contempt and weariness felt by so many workers, based on actual experience, on what a dead hand unions and union officials have been on their places of employment.”

“Whoever wins the elections, unions will continue their slide until they are the boutique expression of employees in the public service, education and concentrations like the waterfront,” Cavalier warns.

“Why vaunt your single most unattractive feature?”

But other points of difference might make sure Labor emerges victorious. Properly handled IR can be one of them.

Andrew Charlton’s book Ozonomics hasn’t got the coverage it deserves, possibly because it challenges the “powerful leaders” view of history that provides the media with such an easy narrative of events, but a key part of its conclusion is worth noting:

Effective government continues to freedom: good public education increases choices; quality infrastructure improves productivity; labour market institutions increase the bargaining power of workers; product market regulation fosters competition and opportunity.

Charlton explains the economy in three words: productivity, jobs and equality.

All of this should easily be able to fit into a Labor narrative – if the issue of IR can be successfully managed.

So who can be surprised Rudd is ducking conflicts with the government when he still has this massive issue for his own party to manage.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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