Busting the myth of a ‘scare campaign’ on debt
Mark Arbib knows a lot about what he likes to call “scare campaigns”. As NSW ALP state secretary he revealed a special talent for negativity with his personal attacks on former NSW Liberal leader Peter Debnam.
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So maybe it was his guilty conscience talking in The Punch when he accused the federal Coalition of unleashing what he calls the “politics of fear and loathing” on the Rudd Government’s $315 billion debt.
Then again, maybe he was just spinning the standard line our opponents roll out every time the Coalition highlights one of Labor’s shortcomings.
When the Coalition urged voters to think about the consequences of voting for Mark Latham during the 2004 election campaign, Labor called that a “scare campaign” too. As director of that campaign, I haven’t been inundated with complaints about it. I guess too many voters of all persuasions have since read The Latham Diaries, or better yet, Latham’s regular musings in the Fin Review.
You don’t have to be a political genius to suppose that the Coalition will be highlighting the Rudd Government’s record level of debt between now and polling day. Even Arbib guessed correctly when he predicted one of our main messages: “Government debt is out of control”.
The fact is we haven’t made this up. Government debt is out of control. And Australians are paying the price.
In just 18 months the Rudd Government has taken our economy from the position of great strength achieved by the former Coalition Government to a position of record deficit. Two thirds of the record net debt to be owed by Australians in a few years’ time will be due to the reckless spending decisions taken by Mr Rudd since coming into office.
The Rudd Government’s own projections say one million Australians will be unemployed by 2010‐11. Australia hasn’t seen that level of unemployment since Paul Keating was Prime Minister.
The Rudd Government continues to blame global economic conditions for its failures and excuses itself for the absence of a plan to pay off its debt. The Coalition also faced external economic challenges in Government. But John Howard and Peter Costello didn’t respond with knee‐jerk decisions or look for excuses to fail. They continued to take responsible decisions and in the process created two million jobs and paid off every cent of the $96 billion debt they inherited from Labor.
Again, I and my team at the Liberal Party didn’t spend hours in a dark, smoke‐filled room thinking this up. No high‐fives were exchanged when we identified “debt” as the central theme of the Rudd Government. Rather, a simple glance through the Government’s own Budget papers did the trick.
When reading Arbib’s rant about so‐called scare campaigns I was disappointed he neglected the old chestnut about the Liberal Party using polling and focus group research.
Because I’m happy to admit that, like every political party on the planet, we conduct research regularly. And that research has confirmed that debt is now the single most important issue in voters’ minds.
According to our research, one reason for this is Labor’s record of plunging Australia into debt and the resulting consequences. Older voters remember the 17% interest rates of the Keating days. Younger voters remember the hardship their parents endured during the “recession we had to have”.
Another reason debt has reached the forefront of voters’ thinking is that, quite simply, they understand what it means. Labor’s scare‐campaign theorists rarely give Australians credit. They’d be surprised to learn Australians understand that massive debt places our economy at a serious disadvantage and is ultimately a threat to their jobs and livelihood. Importantly, voters believe debt also has flow‐down consequences for their kids. I’m sorry if I’ve busted a few myths here today and dented the “win at any cost” mystique attributed to the Liberal Party by our opponents.
If Arbib and his Labor colleagues don’t want us to talk about their record debt, they could pay it all off between now and polling day.
But as the Government’s own Budget papers tell us, that isn’t going to happen.
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