Eager eyed readers will have missed this on Thursday. sorry. But here it is, better late than never.
The central [issue] was always going to be The Economy, Stupid, and Rudd knew it; he and his brains trust, and especially his chief policy co-ordinator, Lindsay Tanner, believed that the most damaging mistake made by all Rudd’s predecessors had been to desert the field, leaving Howard to propagate the lie that Labor could not be trusted to manage the economy – that interest rates would be higher, unemployment worse and the entire country would sink into a slough of despond. It wasn’t true, of course, and a cursory glance at the Hawke–Keating years would prove it wasn’t true; but Beazley, the only one who had been leader for long enough to get the real story across, had never really tried.
Rudd was determined to use what time he had to give it a shot. Typically, he came at it from an unexpected angle. Perhaps influenced by George Megalogenis’s thoughtful book The Longest Decade, Rudd began by praising Howard with faint damns: the current government had generally not done a bad job in following up the great economic reforms of the Labor governments from 1983 to 1996.
Obviously Howard lacked the daring and imagination of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, and some of his ideas had been a bit off the track, but by and large he deserved at least a pass mark for effort. Until, that is, his current term, when with WorkChoices he had (wait for it) Gone a Bridge Too Far. From being a modest but well-intentioned reformer, Howard had become an economic fundamentalist, a nutter who treated human beings as commodities and was interested only in the bottom line.
Once again the prime minister was forced to defend himself. To call him a fundamentalist, he said, borrowing a word from his former staffer Gerard Henderson, was hyperbole. Look at his record: a slather of handouts directed at any group that might conceivably vote for him. There was no ideology there. His supporters enthusiastically agreed: far from being a fundamentalist, their man was the ultimate political opportunist, totally devoid of economic principle or indeed of any other kind of principle.