Commenting on John Howard’s promise this week to establish two Defence Technical Colleges, The 7.30 Report’s Michael Brissenden, with his usual wit, described Howard’s efforts as “not a big cannon – millions rather than billions”.
Not that closer analysis of the policy was something that Howard wanted, with the Australian Technical Colleges announced during his 2004 policy launch failing to deliver much in the way of training as yet. The Defence Colleges are to be parked in marginal seats in Ipswich and Adelaide, further justifying the cynicism that is the main feature of this year’s campaign.
Kevin Rudd suffered a similar fate this week when a commercial television news reporter dismissed the measly twenty million dollar price tag attached to Labor’s promise of tougher standards for child care centre accreditation. After Sunday’s $1.5 billion increase in the child-care rebate, why even bother to talk about quality? Yet, when policy announcements do reach the billion-dollar mark, the fiscal disciplinarians have conniptions.
So, policy in the 2007 campaign is to be weighed and counted rather than analysed. The government’s announcement of tax cuts well into the next decade set the standard by grabbing valuable and largely uncritical media attention on day one of the campaign. To make it onto the all-important six o’clock news, policies are given inflated price tags. One way to inflate the numbers but not the budget is to make promises that will be delivered some time in the next decade. Roads, tax cuts, greenhouse gas reductions; it’s a real future-oriented campaign.
With six weeks to fill and few new ideas to grab the headlines, we seem to be having two campaigns at once – this year’s and a bonus campaign for 2010. Peter Costello has this week been hounding Labor for failing to take account of bracket creep in their tax policy after 2010. Does anyone seriously believe that either Labor or the Coalition will not alter the tax scales markedly well before then?
Everything John Howard has attempted this year has been analysed through the prism of the election. The budget, the Northern Territory intervention and the Haneef debacle have all been scrutinised for their value as political wedges first and their value as public policy second. Howard has brought this on himself, of course – educating the public in political tactics in the same way that Keating educated us in microeconomics.
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Unfortunately for the Coalition, the master’s most attentive apprentice has been Kevin Rudd rather than Peter Costello.