Addressing the Coalition party room this morning, Malcolm Turnbull called Kevin Rudd’s speech at the launch of Paul Kelly’s book yesterday “Orwellian”. Rudd was like a Communist Party General Secretary in his rewriting of history.

Turnbull’s comments were a bit OTT — no democratically-elected leader ever merits comparison with Stalinist tyrants, and the word “Orwellian” is now used in political debate with, well, Orwellian frequency. Nonetheless, Turnbull is essentially correct. The Prime Minister used a book launch to make a lengthy partisan attack on his political opponents that is at odds with what actually happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

But there’s a basic, if disturbing, connection between such petty partisanship on the part of Mr Rudd and his continuing and quite remarkable standing in the views of Australian voters, as attested to by all of the major opinion polls.

Mr Rudd’s popularity remains at historic highs for two reasons: he has saved the economy from a steep rise in unemployment, and done so with a set of popular measures involving handouts, schools, roads and houses. And he is backed by about the most disciplined and ruthless communication management team seen in Australian political history. Mr Rudd is unashamed in his communication techniques, knowing full well that what other politicians and the Press Gallery think doesn’t matter to the majority of voters.

Mr Turnbull, in contrast, has the political messaging techniques of a successful former lawyer and businessman — i.e. none.

If Turnbull really wants to do something about both Rudd and his own poor polling numbers, or even just survive politically, he needs to work out how to counter the communications strategies of the Prime Minister and his office.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey