The 100 Days is one of the lamest clichés of political journalism. It’s an arbitrary notion, drawn from FDR’s whirlwind salvation of capitalism in 1933, and entirely meaningless. Still, the media only gets to play once a decade, so shouldn’t we indulge them, especially when the Labor Party itself puts out a brochure?

Except, the problem is that the last 100 days haven’t been terribly different to the 100 days before them. Or the 100 days prior to those. Or in fact any time back to 4 December 2006, when Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard emerged from the ALP party room as the new Opposition’s new leadership team.

In Opposition, Rudd’s leadership was characterised by stunts and symbolism. He called a housing summit and a climate change summit. He suggested Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be charged with inciting genocide. He spoke Mandarin at APEC. He promised a petrol price commissioner and an inquiry into grocery prices and … Rudd’s Opposition had more stunts than a bonsai garden.

And they worked. They projected an image of Rudd as the policy wonk who cared, the cautious technocrat who understood the challenges facing “working families”, the Labor mantra that would come to guide any and every policy of the new Government.

Nothing has changed since the election – except that now the stunts are bigger and better. Labor members are given “homework” to do. MPs’ wages are frozen. Cabinet goes to the punters. 2020 summits are called. And the lack of substantive progress is offset by key symbolic gestures such as ratifying Kyoto and apologising to the stolen generations.

What hasn’t changed, either, is the Coalition’s total incapacity to cope with Rudd’s tactics. John Howard’s political mastery vanished on 4 December 2006. Thereafter, he couldn’t take a trick, and was unable to do anything to contain Rudd’s spectacular poll lead. Brendan Nelson and the new Coalition leadership haven’t fared any better. If anything, Rudd and Gillard have only sharpened their political skills, effortlessly exposing divisions with the Coalition, playing bipartisan rope-a-dope with Nelson and leaving Julie Bishop to play policy catch-up on IR.

The 100 days, like the preceding 355, have been all about Kevin Rudd’s remarkable – and unexpected – political adroitness. But as everyone knows, at some point there’ll need to be some policy substance to back up the politics. The Budget will be the first step in delivering that substance.

And how does the Rudd 100 Days shape up to the last Labor 100 days? Bob Hawke didn’t produce a glossy brochure, but he did deliver a 100 Days address to the National Press Club in June 1983 . There’s a familiar ring to it – the problems of dealing with the Coalition’s economic legacy. The need to keep election commitments. The importance of striking the right balance in fiscal policy. What’s different is that Hawke spent most of his speech talking about his recent world tour. Bob’s favourite role was always that of globe-trotting statesman.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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