Kevin Rudd and the art of promises without a timeline

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Richard Farmer writes:

It’s an old line, but a good line: where’s the money coming from? Governments have been using it about the election promises of their opponents for years. No doubt, we will hear it again tomorrow morning after Kevin Rudd delivers his response tonight to the 12th Budget of Peter Costello. Any attempt by Labor to have an innovative proposal will be attacked by Costello and Prime Minister John Howard as being fiscally irresponsible.

Rudd has shown himself to be very mindful of not being portrayed as a politician who would recklessly spend and put an end to all the recent years of economic prosperity. Spending cuts are promised to equal new spending proposals with the only exception being $5 billion to be taken from the so-called Future Fund to finance an investment in broad ban internet infrastructure. So far, the public  does not seem to have been frightened by this Labor approach.

But there are dangers that Rudd needs to address. When voters are given something by a government, they are not necessarily grateful for the gift. But when something is taken away from them they are invariably angry about the loss. Thus, spending cuts must be carefully chosen so that the savings are at the expense of people who do not vote Labor. This is no easy task.

Taking money from the Future Fund is less risky. This device to store away a budget surplus to appease any fears the Reserve Bank might have about government spending causing inflationary pressures is disguised as making provision for future superannuation payments to public servants.

Public servants themselves have never shown the slightest concern that when they retire the Government will be unable to find the dollars needed to pay their entitlements, and the rest of the population really could not care less. Costello’s ranting about raiding the future, therefore, has so far had little impact – and nor will his future attacks provided Mr Rudd keeps describing his broadband proposal as an investment in the future that will earn a return in any case.

As to his general response to what has been a Budget received very favourably by the pundits, the Opposition is gradually getting the message right. Rather than criticising it, Rudd should continue with his back-handed congratulations for a government that has proved so willing to react to Labor’s policy proposals.

He should outline a long list of things that need to be done but avoid putting an exact time line on when they should be done. Rather he should say that, just like the education initiatives of last Tuesday which were not previously foreshadowed by the Coalition, the Labor promises will be included as soon as economic conditions permit. And then, just for good measure, suggest that will be sooner with a Labor government committed to stimulating productivity growth than it would be under a Coalition whose only original thoughts are the ones it steals from Labor.

Peter Fray

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