The Government’s early release of its income tax policy has potentially significant benefits – and risks.

The idea of seizing the agenda is fine for a short campaign – but there’s 40 long days to go. What is already a high-speed news cycle will be intensified by the pressure of an election campaign, and the announcement will seem ancient history next week. But the Government will be counting on creating a much-needed poll bounce, helped along by cheerleading from the likes of Dennis Shanahan. Whether the electorate – long since wise to the Government’s schtick of bribing it with its own money – goes for it is anyone’s guess. They didn’t back in May, and we were all so much more innocent then.

The Reserve Bank may not be very impressed, either.

The other benefit is to turn the focus on Rudd’s tax policy – or lack thereof. Labor will only be able to say – as it did yesterday – “watch this space” for so long before they start to look flaky. But there’s some risks there too. Labor now has the benefit of having seen what the Government has to offer, and can match or better it. If the punters like the Labor response, there’s no second chance for the Government.

While the announcement led to some big numbers being bandied about, the packaging left a lot to be desired. Whoever came up with the phrase “Going for Growth” should be sacked or, worse, sent to work for Bronwyn Bishop. Ever since Keynes, generations of politicians here and overseas have proudly “gone for growth”, despite the obvious silliness of the alternative, “going for recession”. Next we’ll be told we’ve never had it so good. Oh, wait, the PM’s already said that.

Ill-judged, too was the idea of putting Howard and Costello close together at similar lecterns. We know the Liberals have a dire problem with their “buy one, get one free” leadership message, so we’ll be seeing a lot more of this. But sticking them cheek-by-jowl only offered a noticeable contrast between the ordinary-sized Howard and the taller Costello. With their 1950s slogans, they could have been one of those godawful British comedy duos. Though funnier.

Later, Howard got a rough deal on A Current Affair, where he fielded absurd questions about average weekly earnings and interest rates. Blame the late Paul Lyneham for this, after he caught out Andrew Peacock in the 1990 election campaign with some arcane questions about the economy. It was predictably played up in today’s press, but the notion that politicians have to know by rote economic trivia in order to govern effectively is ridiculous. Yet it makes for good interview stunts for lightweights like Tracy Grimshaw and the producer whispering in her ear. And the man who has taken Australian politics to new depths of amorality can’t really complain about dirty tricks.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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