It’s one of the unwritten rules of campaigns. Whatever the government spends or promises is also available for the opposition to spend.

Yesterday’s $34 billion tax cut pledge is an effort to attack Labor’s economic credentials, but it smacks of desperation. Rhetoric might have been better for a week or two. Labor now has $34 billion in its election treasure chest to spend.

What’s more, the early release of the updated mid year economic forecast figures means Labor know what else it can promise the punters. The figures are conservative, too – a nice fit with Kevin Rudd’s constant commitment to fiscal conservatism.

The tax cuts look like desperation from the Government. Voters will be cynical about them, if the polls are correct. But they also offer the opposition a chance to stress their economic credentials.

Kevin Rudd can take a leaf from the New Labour book and do what Tony Blair did in 1997 and commit himself to following his opponent’s financial plans. It looks responsible, stops his shadows from planning spending sprees – and means he could blame John Howard and Peter Costello if the figures went funny on a Labor government.

Rudd knows the issues that will win him the election – industrial relations, health, education, climate change and water. He won’t be distracted by others.

The Government has started its campaign with a big bang that stresses their strongest selling point, but they may have fired off their shot too early. If they’d waited, the Government may have forced Labor to release a tax plan that they could then rip apart. But they’re rattled.

Now, all Rudd needs to do is match their offering. That’s easy.

The Government has given Labor $34 billion to play with. Rudd can take it – and still look like a safe pair of hands.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey