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Politics

Feb 4, 2009

Turnbull's stimulus suicide

Refusing to back the Government’s stimulus package is a truly colossal error by the Opposition, writes Bernard Keane.

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At about 10.30 this morning in the House of Representatives the Opposition walked into a baseball bat. It caught them flush across the head. BANG. Then they got up and invited the wielder to swing it again.

The wielder — Kevin Rudd — won’t need to be asked twice.

Refusing to back the Government’s stimulus package, which Malcolm Turnbull announced in the chamber this morning, is a truly colossal — indeed, almost suicidal — error by the Opposition.

The Coalition and much of the media haven’t worked out that politics has for the moment changed completely. A crisis mindset has taken hold and voters are in no mood for anyone getting in the way of it being addressed with urgency. The Press Gallery will obsess about whether the Greens and Xenofielding will support the package. The Greens, displaying common sense that the Opposition clearly lacks, have rapidly moved to deal themselves in. They’ve proposed the Economics committee conduct hearings late this week and that the Senate sits Friday and next Monday (it is scheduled to rise so they can conduct Estimates hearings) to consider the urgent bills. They’re also looking at options for greening up the package, including ensuring the 20,000 new houses to be built under the package are energy efficient. Fielding is for referring the package to committee, as, apparently, is Xenophon. Wishlists might be brought out in discussions with Chris Evans’s office.

But the passage of the bills isn’t the main game.

Kevin Rudd has recently embarked on a strategy of delegitimising the Liberal Party, connecting it with the causes of the financial crisis and painting it as intellectually incapable of understanding it, let alone dealing with it.

This strategy isn’t just a few words here and there at press conferences. Rudd is writing about it, talking about it inside Parliament and out, and so are his senior ministers. It is a comprehensive and determined strategy.

It is also fallacious and deeply partisan. But this morning, Malcolm Turnbull handed the Government compelling proof that it is right.

Rudd’s campaign will now accelerate into a ferocious attack on the Liberal Party. They will be portrayed as extremists who are deliberately, bloody-mindedly preventing the Government from dealing with the crisis because of their ideological extremism. If the Government succeeds in its attacks — and thanks to Malcolm Turnbull, their chances of doing so have risen massively — they could crush the conservative side of politics for the next couple of years, leaving them irrelevant, divided and dispirited. The ALP could obliterate the Coalition in 2010, even amid high unemployment and continuing recession.

A lot of the media will miss this. Rudd is talking over them to voters. They’ll obsess about how the Government will gets its package through the Senate, as though that is the Government’s problem. In fact it’s the problem of the other parties.

Turnbull is saying what he has done isn’t popular, but the right thing to do. Commendable. He actually offered some sensible suggestions this morning for alternatives, particularly in relation to reducing small business costs. But he can’t begin to understand how unpopular this will be, and the way in which it will erode his party’s support among voters. Remember the bollocking Kim Beazley copped when he tried to amend the Howard Government’s tax cuts in 2005? This is like that — multiplied a hundred-fold, because it’s not about handouts so much as economic survival.

You fools. You utter fools.

There’s not even any intellectual rigour to Turnbull’s position. He insists that tax cuts should be brought forward. But in effect they HAVE been brought forward into the next five months via tax bonuses — which in any event exceed the tax cuts. He also claims it’s all about the kids — not leaving future generations to pay the price for our profligacy. Presumably Turnbull hasn’t met too many people who grew up in homes with both parents unemployed, or young adults who couldn’t find a job after leaving school or finishing training. They’ll be paying the price for this recession, very soon. And pity your party doesn’t apply that same logic of generational equity to climate change, Malcolm.

Yesterday in Question Time, when they belatedly got round to asking questions, the Opposition made much of comparing Rudd to Gough Whitlam. The inanity of this tactic was truly staggering. Like John Howard, who to the very end of his political life retained his 1970s view of trade unionists as folkloric ogres that he could scare voters with, the Liberals appear to think Gough Whitlam is some sort of demon, with whom association is an automatic negative. Those with a basic grasp of political history know that Gough ran the most inept government in Australian history (at least until the Iemma/Rees years). But most voters don’t have a basic grasp of political history. Most voters think Gough is some avuncular relic from a quaint era of bad hair and silly political songs. Who on earth is running the Opposition’s tactics committee and thinks this is a good idea?

Overnight and in The Age, backbencher Peter Costello was saying something critical of the Government. Whatever. No one cares about you anymore, Peter. Go away.

Rudd will be delighted with the Opposition’s stupidity. But he won’t be celebrating. Instead, he’ll be flexing his muscles and practising his swing. That mild-mannered, bespectacled bloke will be swinging the baseball bat, hard and without pity. And he’s going to hit the Liberals again, and again, and again, and again, and he’s not going to stop until they’re a bloodied mess.

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