So, was that it? Rebates for school fees. Tax-free housing saving accounts. Child care rebates … $10 billion. Zzzzzzzzz.

The Government needed to radically change the story of the 2007 election campaign yesterday. The approach that has served the Government well since 1998 – pork-barrelling and scare campaigns – has lost its potency. It hasn’t helped that the Government, and particularly Howard and Abbott, have put in shockers in this campaign, but you get the impression even if they were firing on all cylinders the Government would still be struggling.

In hindsight, the Government probably needed to change tack after Labor neutered their tax policy and Rudd coasted to an easy debate victory, but since the orthodoxy is now apparently that no one pays any attention until the last fortnight, yesterday was as good a time as any.

However, it was more of the same.

The Government will get some good headlines from its splurge. That’s the literate taken care of. The other 80% of the population are more problematic. The campaign launch was the lead on Seven News, but came well down the order on Nine. Both emphasised the spendthrift nature of the launch, at a time when the Reserve Bank was warning of further interest rate rises.

The tension between rising inflation and both sides’ spending commitments is starting to seep out of the broadsheets and into popular perception. How this plays out may yet have a role in the outcome. There may be real benefit in Kevin Rudd bandying about significantly smaller numbers at his launch tomorrow.

The Government probably figured it was worth trying one more wedge on Labor. The private school rebate won’t stay in parents’ pockets for a moment – you’d have to think private school fees for 2009 just went up $800. But its real purpose is to see if there is any of Mark Latham’s class warfare instinct left in the ALP. Rudd will dodge that wedge as easily as he dodged the tax ploy.

Oh, and in case anyone didn’t know it, the Prime Minister is a grandfather. Someone in the Liberal brains trust thought that emphasising that at the launch was a good idea.

The Coalition should have considered some alternatives to disrupt the campaign. It’s ten points behind with less than a fortnight to go.

Playing it safe is unlikely to save it. Peter Costello – supposedly our next Prime Minister – could’ve been more than the warm-up act. A bold announcement on climate change might have attracted attention. Something big on preventative health, intended to mitigate the long-term fiscal impact of an ageing population. You know, the vision thing.

And of course, they had already fired their best shot, a $34b tax policy, weeks ago, in an ill-fated attempt to disrupt Labor’s campaign.

We’ve all been looking for ways the Government can stage a comeback. After yesterday, we’re still looking.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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