No politician ever lost votes by under-estimating the intelligence, or over-estimating the selfishness, of the Australian people. Kevin Rudd can talk all he likes about the Australian attribute of a “fair go”, as he did at his policy launch yesterday, but when it comes to self-interest Australians would be right up near the top of the list of those countries which, as the politicians say, we normally compare ourselves to.
If you have any doubt about that, consider the long and successful history of electoral bribes proferred at past elections and have a quick glance at the story about the Qantas staff who were booed by frustrated passengers at Brisbane Airport after leaving their check-in counters to assist an elderly woman who collapsed and died in the long queue. Even when people rightly are sceptical about actually getting the fist full of dollars there are many whose vote can be influenced by the off chance that the promise might actually be kept.
This is what makes Labor’s appeal yesterday to common sense and community interest, rather than the normal political appeal to self interest, such a surprising strategy. When the Australian Financial Review and the ponderous Paul Kelly both heap praise on you for being responsible then Labor has grounds to be at least a little concerned about being holier than the other lot.
As I wrote for the Crikey website after yesterday’s policy launch, “the prospect of a Government promising to outspend an Opposition makes this election campaign rare indeed.”
The Coalition, which badly needs something remarkable if it is to escape as a winner, at least now has people’s self-interest to back during the last week of campaigning and that’s not a bad runner to have in the political race.
Perhaps one way is to combine the positive and the negative by really pushing the Prime Minister’s promise from Monday to make at least part of school fees tax deductible. John Howard would be just the man to remind people that it was Sir Robert Menzies who introduced state aid for independent schools. Just as the Menzies first step of giving federal money for science blocks was quickly followed by broader support, so too will the first step in the Howard revolution of providing help to parents to choose where their children are schooled be followed by further tax deductions for fees as soon as economic conditions allow.
A desperate ploy maybe but then, desperate men must not be choosy and the now pure and economically conservative Kevin Rudd can be attacked for not even believing in the first step.
Yesterday’s Daily Verdict, and my doubts about being praised as responsible notwithstanding, was a clear win for Labor.