Listening to Alexander Downer talk about Kevin Rudd is a lot like one of those old “Where do you get it” advertisements that helped make John Singleton famous. They annoy the hell out of you but the message gets through. The Foreign Minister was at it again yesterday in his irritating attack dog mode. “I say to all of our parliamentarians – and I think they believe in this by the way – have confidence in the strength of our record,” is the way Mr Downer put it. “Have confidence that the phoneyism of Kevin Rudd will be exposed in time.”

It was a variation on a theme that Mr Downer and his Prime Minister John Howard have been using in their comments on the Opposition Leader for several weeks now. Labor, the Government is none too subtly suggesting, is getting cocky and over confident as the polls indicate that victory is within its grasp. It is a message that plays directly to a common sentiment in voters that when one side starts looking arrogant and taking their vote for granted that they should consider giving the underdog a go.

The Minister for Veterans Affairs, Bruce Billson, in the House of Representatives on Monday drew attention to another aspect of the Government attempts to undermine their opponent. In an answer to the last question without notice for the day he told a delightful little story of the way Labor plays the me-too game of copying Coalition policies. Mr Billson described how at this week’s RSL National Congress, Labor’s shadow minister for Veterans Affairs outlined policy proposals to cost $55 million. A few hours later the Prime Minister took to the stage with a $330 million commitment.

Mr Rudd, due to speak after the PM, ditched half his planned speech and accepted the Howard plan as his own. Three days later, said Mr Billson, there was a request to his office from the opposition saying, “Can you share with us the detail of the package and the costings and how it actually works—and the projections?”

“What became clear” the government minister told the House, “was just how unprincipled the Labor Party is in going about its policy development. It got it wrong four times, ditched its own policy, less than a day old, embraced what the government was doing and then wondered what it had actually embraced. Is it the kind of ‘echonomics’ we are going to see more of as we go towards the election?”

That is a comment we will hear time and again from the team of underdogs in the weeks ahead.