Launch? More like a moment’s respite from the interminable tedium of the campaign that never ends. It was like christening a 15-year-old.

Peter Costello and John Howard. It’s Bert and Graham, Daryl and Ossie … the comic and the straight man/ostrich. Costello had the gags today. Howard has the big lines. And the money. Though not that much money.

“Peter Garrett,’’ Costello said. The audience dissolved in hopeless mirth. It’s the way he tells them.

“Poor misunderstood economic conservative, yearning to be free’’ … that’d be the Labor Party. ‘’Not even Labor can muck it up? Don’t underestimate them!’’

He pumped the air, he waved his fists, he cracked with emotion, sometimes combining all three in a disconcerting show of enthusiastic passion.

Then along came Mark Vaile. There is only so such excitement a Coalition launch can take, and Vaile was there to balance Costello. Oil on the waters.

“Australians don’t want a risk education revolution … it sounds like something you’d get in a communist country.” That was Mark being funny. It’s the way he tells them.

It wouldn’t be long before he was droning for several hours about ‘second generation bio-fuels’. This man could bore professionally. Perhaps at an international level. Who knows.

“The case for the re-election of a Coalition government is compelling …’’ A sense of conclusion. The audience awakes. “We’ve had an unprecedented 16 years” … audience applauds sleepily. “What Australia needs now is the right leadership with safe hands to guide the nation forward.’’ Vaile was finishing to rousing applause. They could see light at the end of the tunnel.

Back to MC and Brisbane Mayor Campbell Newman, a man who stands a better than average chance of being the country’s leading Liberal office holder after November 24.

“We have a real leader in John Howard… please be upstanding …’’ Upstanding? A touch of RSL.

Beaming, jubilant, pumped and, significantly, not falling over. There he was. Voice cracking through random octaves with the moment. John Howard rampant, John Howard bathed in a wash of electric blue, set to triumphant swoops of horns and strings.

“A blend of experience’’ … cough … “new faces in important areas of responsibility” … ahem “Mal Brough’’ … wooohoo!!

We were away. “I want to tell you why I want to be Prime Minister of this country again.’’ OK. “So we can build an even stronger and better Australia.’’ Ah. So that’s it.

“I want to pursue with relentless vigor the goal of full employment … I want to keep inflation low.’’

And then there’s schools. He’s right of course, what is an education revolution?

“I want to be prime minister again to defeat … the scourge of illicit drug taking.’’ And protect our borders, “to continue to decide who comes to this nation’’.

And get the balance right in climate change.

Eight minutes in, no mention of a specific dollar sum.

“I want rural Australia, our beloved bush to be an enduring part of the fabric of this nation.’’

And to bring health care, health care responsive to the needs of families.

“And finally I want to be PM again so that we can achieve a lasting recognition in our constitution of the first Australians.”

Storm clouds are gathering, but we do have a bright future? That’s the question. Don’t risk our prosperity. Don’t elect the wrong people.

Pause for eventual and dutiful applause.

Thirteen minutes in. No fresh promises. No dollar sums. But the first mention of 17% interest rates, Paul Keating’s gift to a grateful nation.

“I want to pay particular tribute to the magnificent job that Peter Costello has done for the past 11 and a half years.’’ Thunderous applause, smug smile … from Costello.

“Labor has nothing more than a PR script,’’ gloated the PM, looking now for a laugh.

“Peter Garrett!’’ he ventured. Got it in one.

Back to other more familiar riffs. “Love me or loathe me’’ (they love him).

But here we were, 17 minutes in and no specific fully funded promises.

What do working families need most? Work. That was clever.

The first mention of Menzies comes at 21 minutes. A timely interjection, a steadying reference, a reminder of basic principles.

“Today I want to announce three new measures…” At last! 22 minutes gone and here comes some spending. This is what we came for.

Childcare. Check. Home ownership? Yes. Sorry “the dream of home ownership”, something that is “at the heart of Australian experience’’ Howard had “a comprehensive plan”, a plan that included “tax free home savings’’. Bravo, and 15% better than the me-first alternative.

The social agenda went deeper: “Stable marriages”, “healthy lifestyles’’, “civic involvement’’, “capital gains” … this was for the heartland. And there would be 961 hectares of commonwealth land too.

Back to the big picture. A strong economy. Rebuilt defence. Roads. Education. Health. All made possible by that strong economy.

Did I mention 17% interest rates? And our special relationship with the United States? Yes PM, you did.

“Labor wall to wall … my fellow Australians … isn’t that a terrible risk?’’

Forty two minutes and 36 seconds. A fistful of dollars, a handful of fear and a rousing cymbal clash. Fountain music. Three more years.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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