It’s rare that you can contrast the spin of the Rudd Government positively with anything, but yesterday was an object lesson (or an “abject lesson”, for fans of malapropisms) in media handling from the Prime Minister.
It’s clear that not merely was the Opposition wrong-footed by the number, they were wrong-footed by Rudd’s reaction. This is Turnbull at his “Rudd-free recovery” press conference yesterday:
I was disappointed however to see a little while ago the Prime Minister claim victory for his economic policies. It was his mission accomplished moment, missing only an aircraft carrier and a bomber jacket… Mr Rudd said, after he got over his initial triumphalism, he said that we are not out of the woods.
That’s about the most childish thing Turnbull has said in his four and a half years in politics. Missing only the aircraft carrier and the bomber jacket? That’s like an Opposition Leader missing only an Opposition and a Leader. Evidently the quip was worked out before the Prime Minister’s press conference, where Rudd’s first line was:
Thank you. Today in the midst of the worst global economic recession in three quarters of a century we have good news for the Australian economy although we are not out of the woods yet.
Malcolm’s triumphalism detector is evidently more sensitive than mine.
Indeed, there was a certain Bizarro World nature to yesterday’s spinning from the Government. Swan and Rudd could barely get through a sentence without warning about that rocky road we were on inside the woods, and the likelihood of higher unemployment, the possibility of future GDP contractions and the numerous negative indicators lurking beneath the surface of the data. And did they mention that we weren’t out of the woods yet?
Quite apart from playing it safe given they don’t know what data future accounts will serve up, you can guess Rudd is keen to avoid the fate of Gordon “saved the world” Brown, who seemed to try to convert his initially-lauded response to the financial crisis into unwarranted economic gurudom. Asked if he wanted to offer advice to the rest of the planet given we now led the developed world in economic growth, Rudd recoiled at light speed, his maroon tie a blur:
We’re never in the business of providing public lectures to anybody else. I mean we’ve got a lot to work on ourselves…
And by the way, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Fact was, despite Rudd and Swan arriving with huge smiles and cracks about the State of Origin, they played it about as flat as humanly possible. Turnbull’s “mission accomplished” crack says more about his own worry about yesterday’s impact than what Rudd said or did. That signal was also sent loud and clear in Question Time, with Opposition members clearly not interested in being there. Christopher Pyne, who job description includes using points of order to try to disrupt the Government’s message delivery, sat mute for most of it, with only the occasional venture to the Dispatch Box while Government Ministers spoke at length with no interruption.
Turnbull and Hockey yesterday should have welcomed the figure, but noted that a lot of Australians would be doing it tough and that the Government’s deficit meant there would be no opportunity to respond if growth did turn down in coming quarters. They could have pointed out which states were facing recession regardless of the national figures. Instead they looked churlish.
Today’s revelation that Turnbull was targeted for termination by the Packernator back in the day (what was Kerry going to do — make him watch Funniest Home Videos until his brain exploded?) — also didn’t help, although the timing of that was entirely out of Turnbull’s hands. It’s tricky to claim the focus should be on the Government and “jobs jobs jobs” when you’re telling war stories about life with Kerry.