The ghosts of Labor leaders past haunt Kevin Rudd more than Tony Abbott ever has. He’s tried to erase Julia Gillard’s legacy — and to her great credit she’s gone to ground — but there’s always Mark Latham throwing bombs from the sidelines. Sometimes he even makes a lot of sense, like in the annual John Button lecture in Melbourne yesterday:

“In my time out of elected office, some eight-and-a-half years, not much has surprised me about Australian politics. There are just two things which leave me genuinely bewildered. One is that the ALP still has a debate about economic policy.

“After the stunning successes of the past 30 years, how can anyone argue for government intervention ahead of market competition? How can words like ’emergency tariff’, ‘co-investment’ and ‘re-regulation’ still be in the vocabulary of Labor MPs? Why would they cling to the proven failures of corporate welfare, such as throwing money at the Australian car industry?

“The debate should have ended by now. The party should support the Hawke/Keating/Button model as readily as it supports Medicare and DisabilityCare.”

If only.

So what’s Latham’s second surprise?

“… even though the nation has been transformed, the framework of political debate remains unaltered. The system is trapped in a time-warp, talking about the same issues it debated 20 years ago. But Australia itself is a very different place.”

Quite. Don’t expect that to be reflected over the next two weeks.

Crikey Calling is independent media for independent minds – in handy podcast form! Join the Crikey crew for a lively (if somewhat wonky) look behind the scenes of politics and power in Australia.

They’re halfway down the straight, and who’s got his neck in front? Crikey’s political oracle Bernard Keane talks to Jason Whittaker about the challenge facing Tony Abbott to run down Kevin Rudd — stream it or download here.