Perhaps if Labor had offered up Bill Shorten, Bob Carr, Greg Combet or any candidate other than Kevin Rudd for the top job, the slogan ‘A New Way’ may have had a degree of plausibility. But in case Labor’s ad men have forgotten, Mr Rudd is not only a recycled PM, he is a recycled failed PM. From his feverish 747 lifestyle to his erratic and unpredictable decision-making, from policy on the run to grandiose hyperbole, Mr Rudd has fallen back into the worst of his old ways — those same bewildering habits that saw his colleagues eject him from office in the first place.
Slogans only ever resonate if they capture and distil an otherwise intangible public sentiment. Think ‘Yes We Can’ or ‘It’s Time’. Rudd’s ‘A New Way’ attempts to do three things: to harness the electorate’s boredom with the shenanigans of the minority government, to feed off the public’s distaste for his predecessor (which he himself shares), and to avoid scrutiny of Labor’s past. As such, it fails on all counts. As election day draws near, it will become increasingly apparent to those same jaded swinging voters that the only way to avoid another hung parliament is to vote for the Coalition. Julia Gillard is old news, and her cohorts have disingenuously retreated into monastic silence, but Labor’s track record is there for all to see in its glaring deficiencies: rising unemployment, an eye-watering debt and a business community in despair at Labor’s anti-business and anti-growth agenda.
Tony Abbott and the Coalition must not fall into the trap of fighting on Mr Rudd’s preferred fantasy battleground of feel-good promises delivered on the never-never. On every policy issue, Mr Rudd and Labor can and must be held accountable for the dismal failures of the last six years; a depressing period in which Australia has gone from a profitable, modern and enviable world economy to an enfeebled nation whose leaders pretend it is being crippled by circumstances beyond its borders, and beyond their control.
The Coalition have an excellent team. Greg Hunt has been the stand-out thus far; with superb performances on ABC1’s Q&A and Sky News Showdown. And in Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison, Julia Bishop, Christopher Pyne and others there is an abundance of intellectual talent capable of tackling their counterparts in Mr Rudd’s re-hashed team. Lacking their leaders shaman-like ability to slither out of awkward questioning, the vulnerability of the rest of the Labor cabinet lies in the fact that, to a man and a woman, they all have played a part in a period of government that makes Whitlam’s look responsible and sensible.
Mr Rudd’s transparent goal with promising ‘newness’ is to allow himself to employ his greatest skills — those of the slick con merchant and seller of dreams that cannot be proven or disproven. Team Abbott must diligently and determinedly re-focus the debate on every single Labor disaster. They have an abundance of riches to choose from.
On the one hand, we have the celebrity candidate, with the celebrity novelist daughter, the multi-millionairess wife whose billion-dollar British business and tax affairs are under scrutiny, and the son who has been given a senior job in the party. On the other, we have a man with a mortgage, a wife who runs a child-care centre and three kids making their own way in the world. Students of politics would be forgiven for getting it the wrong way round when it came to guessing which one is leader of the party of the Australian working classes. But they wouldn’t get it the wrong way round if they then went on to guess which one best represented the values of those same average voters.
Kevin Rudd is as far removed from the aspirations, hopes, experiences, problems, and disappointments of the typical Australian as it is possible to get. As an individual, he is the ideal personification of contemporary Labor values; money grows on trees, bureaucracy and government-sponsored jobs are the norm, and a bogus claim to a superior morality is justification for any and all flawed decision-making. But above all, what Mr Rudd most obviously represents is the triumph of Twitter-esque superficiality and media savvy over principles and convictions.
Rightly or wrongly, dragging family members into the spotlight has long been a staple of democratic elections. Whether the widespread images of Thérèse Rein’s unexpected foray into Afghanistan alongside her husband, where the two of them were variously described as resembling either a pair of ninja turtles or a couple of hand-grenades, will have proven a plus or a minus for the Rudd campaign remains to be seen. More importantly, can a self-avowed celebrity candidate like Mr Rudd truly hope to understand the values of ‘normal’ people whose life experiences are so alien to his own?
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