Just like a new CEO at a big company who announces huge asset write-downs, a new government will always try to paint their predecessor black.

And so it was with Kevin Rudd, although the economic issues that he used to beat up on the Coalition — runaway inflation and excessive government spending — have not been effective.

John Howard was certainly not impressed based on this comment at a Liberal Party fundraiser in Perth on Tuesday night:

The absolutely dishonest and pathetic attempt by Mr Swan and Mr Tanner and Mr Rudd to somehow or other, demonstrate to the Australian people that they had inherited an economic mess, from the former Coalition. That they had developed, you know, they had inherited high inflation and run away spending, I mean, they have no shame.

While even Christopher Pyne admitted on Q&A last week that government spending got out of hand in the final Howard years, Kevin Rudd’s decision to focus on inflation and link its containment to the level of government spending just doesn’t wash. The punters know it is global issues that are driving prices higher.

Besides, the strategy fell completely flat when Wayne Swan unveiled a surprisingly large $22 billion budget surplus and the promised meat-axe attack on government spending failed to materialise.

In his budget lock-up press conference, Wayne Swan nominated mean testing Family Tax Benefit B at $150,000 as his hardest decision, but the PM ducked and weaved when Barrie Cassidy repeatedly asked him to nominate one tough decision he’d made in Government on Insiders last Sunday.

A more effective strategy would have been to overturn the aggressive accounting tactics used by Peter Costello to restate and reduce previous budget surpluses and come up with a surprisingly small projected surplus for 2008-09 of $12 billion.

This could have been achieved with two simple moves: reversing the $23 billion in dividends that Howard and Costello recklessly raided from the Reserve Bank and adding a $5 billion annual public service superannuation line in the budget.

The rhetoric could then have been that John Howard went on a spending spree by running down our foreign reserves to dangerous levels and not even budgeting for the pensions payable to our diggers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And with a headline surplus of just $12 billion, Rudd could then have justified serious cuts to government spending, rather than relying on pathetic nips and tucks and new taxes on alcopops and the North West Shelf to bring in more than $1 billion a year of extra revenue.

Telling Australians that John Howard left us with just $36 billion of foreign reserves — ranked 36th in the world by Wikipedia and less than the likes of Peru, Thailand, Algeria, Nigeria, Iran, Malaysia, Argentina, Poland, Denmark and Romania — would have cut through more effectively than the present confused message.

*Listen to this chat with Mike Smith on 4BC about the Chinese buying up Australia.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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