In a bid to avoid the sort of wedge campaigns that have been used against it in previous years, Labor has simply echoed many of the Coalition’s policies, or made minor modifications. So are there any differences between John Howard and Kevin Rudd? After extensive examinations I could find only 10.
1. Education revolution: While both are avowed conservatives, Rudd thinks “revolution” sounds cool.
2. Age: Howard is a 68-year-old grandfather, whereas 50-year-old Rudd merely acts like he’s 68.
3. Unions: Though neither man is a great friend of trade unions, Rudd is a great friend to trade unionists – his front bench is full of them. Howard has done a great deal in his career to frustrate unions in an effort to increase flexibility and reduce workers’ pay. Rudd, however, has left this task to his wife.
4. Language skills: The Labor leader will most likely develop a close relationship with Chinese President Hu Jintao, based on Rudd’s ability to speak his language, Mandarin. Howard’s closest relationship, with US President George Bush, has blossomed despite Bush being barely competent in English.
5. Environment: Both men are being undermined by their multi-millionaire Sydneysider environment ministers. However, Howard’s has hair.
6. Housing affordability: Rudd has talked a lot about housing affordability during this campaign in an attempt to reach ordinary Australians. He and his wife have recent insight into the issue, having decided not to bid $5 million for a beach house. Howard’s major concern in this area, however, is how much money he has to throw to voters so he can avert his own housing crisis and stay in Kirribilli.
7. Peter Costello: Obviously neither man likes the Treasurer nor would dream of having him over for dinner, but Howard is stuck with him as the anointed successor for another three weeks.
8. Interest rates: Howard says that the interest rates rises are not his fault, but that rates will always be lower under the Coalition than Labor. Rudd says that the rate rises are entirely Howard’s fault, but that he isn’t going to be able to control them. So both leaders say that interest rates are largely beyond their control, and yet that the other one cannot be trusted. And the difference? Only that this worked for Howard last time, and won’t this time.
9. Scare campaigns: The Coalition has run a negative campaign, warning the public that, if Labor wins, unions will run rampant over the entire country, there will be a “financial tsunami” and life as we know it will effectively end. Whereas Rudd disapproves of scare campaigns, tut-tutting that “Mr Howard always claims that the sky will fall in”. Instead he has focused on positive, visionary campaign messages, such as how Costello would extend WorkChoices and the Coalition would build nuclear power plants.
10. The polls: Three weeks out, opinion polls still have the two leaders far further apart than they are on any one issue. This may well be the only area where the two leaders are ultimately all that different.