Stay away from the beaches. Move to higher ground. Pack a survival kit. Peter Costello reckons a tsunami is on its way.

Predicting tsunamis is a risky business. The last Australian to try it was Adelaide house painter John Nash, who in January 1976 claimed that Adelaide was about to be wiped out by a massive wave. Some frightened South Australians sold their houses and fled inland. Businesses along the Glenelg foreshore suffered a drop in income. When the wave failed to appear, Nash judiciously declared “I’d give it an extra day.” It always pays to be a bit imprecise when predicting doom.

Peter is appropriately vague about the timing – it will come “at some stage” – but he is clear on where it will come from: China (“tsunami” is a Japanese word; he might’ve used “haixiao” instead). That’d be the China that is driving our mineral boom. You might think that if Costello believes Chinese growth is unsustainable and instability is just around the corner, he shouldn’t be giving out tax cuts based on a continuation of the current boom. But that’s 25 November thinking.

The Treasurer has escalated his doomsday rhetoric very quickly since Tuesday’s inflation figures. Before that, he was declaring that Australians would be worse off with Labor’s tax cuts. On Tuesday he started warning of a Labor recession. Today it’s a tsunami.

Costello needs to pace himself. We won’t even be into November before Kevin Rudd becomes one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Perhaps Costello’s religious background will come through and we’ll start getting fire-and-brimstone sermons. If nothing else, that should liven the campaign up.

Of course, all of this is a continuation of Costello’s ceaseless mimicking of Paul Keating. His current stoush with the banks is virtually copied from Keating’s run-ins with NAB’s Nobby Clark in the 1980s. It may set serious commentators tut-tutting, but given the contempt in which banks are held by most people, Costello can’t lose from getting stuck into them.

If anything, he should ramp up the abuse – it’s a better response to the looming interest rate rise than insisting that things would be even worse under Labor. And John Howard, who criticised Keating for his attacks on NAB, presumably doesn’t mind so much when his own side does it.

Problem is, Costello only copies Keating’s rhetoric. Keating walked the walk. Costello settles for talking the talk. Right down to the drunken promise to retreat to the backbench and destroy his leader. If he’d done that, he might now be leading the Government’s campaign.

And, as things stand, he wouldn’t be doing any worse than the Prime Minister.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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