Monday, December 18, 2006




The 2007 Australian federal election is going to be a blood-soaked affair. The prime minister, John Howard, began the real fang fighting yesterday. He tried to burst the bubble of his more popular political opposite, the self-titled 'alternative' prime minister Kevin Rudd with a bizarre and somewhat creepy rant.

Howard claimed that Rudd accused his government of "fostering an ethos of selfishness in the Australian the detriment of the common good."

Howard then asked, "Is that it?"

As though being accused of encouraging selfishness, "to the detriment of the common good," no less, means nothing at all.

Like it isn't something most Australians are concerned about. He has clearly not been listening.

Howard didn't seem to understand that Rudd had not accused Australians of being selfish, simply that the prime minister had transformed the country in a way that encouraged Australians to shift away from "a fair go for all" to looking after number one with increasing priority.

Howard quoted Rudd's bruising accusation as though he believed most Australians would think the argument, like he did, to be completely baseless. Howard tried to make a joke of it, but he botched it.

For a prime minister to be accused of doing anything that was " the detriment of the common good..." is bad news. To remind people of it yourself is worse. Howard still seems to believe that Australians view him as a trustworthy bloke who would not, could not, do anything that would be " the detriment of the common good..."

Is that it? Howard asked.

Most Australians would say, "Isn't that enough?"

From 'The Australian' :

Labor's new leadership team hit back last night. Deputy leader Julia Gillard said Mr Howard's attack proved his "best days (are) behind him".

And she said Mr Howard, who is seeking a fifth term in office, was "clearly rattled" by Mr Rudd's solid start and Labor's rise in public support.

"Australians aren't going to give him a tick for making shallow criticisms of the Opposition Leader."

Rudd wasn't stupid enough to fall into Howard's trap. Howard wants Rudd to react emotionally. He wants and needs Rudd to hit back with a Latham-like fury. People want to know if behind the Rudd visage of a small town pharmacist there dwells a seriously angry man.

If Howard can crack Rudd and make him unleash some verbal flame, Howard can then grind on for all of 2007 about Rudd's problems with anger, knowing that if he can only make the claim enough times, he can probably make it stick.

But Rudd won't bite back. If he doesn't know every detail of Howard's catalogue of political weapons of character destruction then he shouldn't be leading the Labor Party.

It's not Rudd's job now to be the master blaster.

This is the job of Julia Gillard.

'his best years are behind him'

She's been using the line for weeks, but it's been effective in making Howard appear older, and more frail, that he actually is.

Whether he does it now or in 2007, Howard will use Gillard's claim that his best years are behind him to build an image of a Labor Party that thinks anyone over 60 is over and done with.
We will see Howard play his remarkably synthetic Mock Outrage character, when he speaks in a low, quiet voice, sounding hurt, with slightly moist eyes about how unfair Rudd and Gillard will be towards the millions of baby boomers, like him, who will heading into retirement.

Well, some will be heading into retirement earlier than the rest. It is unlikely Howard will be putting in long hours when those boomers he will now try and champion are celebrating their 75th birthday in the middle of a busy work wee.

It will be extraordinary if Rudd and Gillard allow Howard to auto-reply he will stay prime minister as long as the Liberal Party wants him to be.

He must be held to commit to serving a full term as prime minister, regardless of what the party may, or may not, want in the next few years.

They can hammer the realistic scenario that Howard will handover power to some lesser mortal if he wins the election before kicking back in the United States, taking time to reflect on past 'glories' with old mates Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

There must be a Rudd Vs Howard live debate. Not a staged, tightly controlled in-the-studio television production, but a live debate in a public space, where the time normally filled by questions from journalists can come from the floor, unscreened.

We are in a time of war, as Howard, Blair and Bush continually remind us. If that is so, then we need a war-time leader. Someone who can face the public, and can honestly answer real questions about the reality that lies outside the bubble of federal politics.