Before he flicked the switch from the testy old bloke mode he was in at the start of the campaign, John Howard memorably told Kerry O’Brien that the Coalition’s vision was all about “back to the future”.
The Chaser’s De Lorean wasn’t at the policy launch yesterday, but “Doc” Howard and his merry band did their utmost to confirm Paul Keating’s adage that their view of a modern Australia is coloured by a serious streak of nostalgia for the white picket fence. Even the ghost of Menzies got a nod.
The PM, of course, wanted to convince all of us that he is full of ideas for the future, even if his new slogan of the “opportunity society” appears to have been borrowed from a 2001 Tony Blair speech.
The “new leadership” hope of the Coalition, Peter Costello, was playing to the gallery with a reprise of his Keating impersonation. Costello, still stuck fighting the student politics wars of the 70s and 80s, reprised “reds under the beds” and solemnly warned of the dangers to Australia of “Socialist Forum”.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Howard’s philosophical musings were more about the legacy than anything else.
So it was something of a contrast to see Brisbane’s Liberal Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman, as the host for the show. If the “narrowing” never arrives, Newman will of course be the senior Liberal politician in the land on the 25 November.
The 40-something first term Brisbane Lord Mayor might be compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governing with the handicap of a Labor majority council, Newman presents himself as largely a post-partisan figure. His signature themes were articulated in his brief remarks during the launch, and they sounded an awful lot more contemporary than what was on offer from the star turns.
A figure like Newman might have represented genuine renewal for the Coalition. That opportunity has been well and truly lost, but some “might have beens” could well be on the agenda for the Libs as they try to turn their focus from endless discussion of what interest rates were in 1974 or 1984 and actually contemplate what they might need to do to reinvent themselves as a governing party for the twenty-first century.