THE FINAL BLOW to Kevin Rudd’s credibility was delivered last night, as the department heads of Treasury and Finance stunningly rebuked Labor’s claim of a “black hole” in Coalition costings; Labor’s charges have been shown to be dishonest, and as a result the election race is now over, bar the counting.
It is now safe to say — barring some stellar and monumental gaffe by the Liberals, the prospect of which defies belief — that the ALP has lost this election; the Liberal Party will be elected on 7 September, probably by a wide margin, and yesterday made it a formality.
After months spruiking baseless claims about Coalition costings — most notably that there was a $70 billion shortfall in them — the ALP yesterday hit the brick wall rigorous press scrutiny should have presented: a rebuff, in unequivocal terms from a source of great integrity, of the veracity of the basis of Labor’s scare campaign over budget cuts that an Abbott government would implement.
The intervention in the election campaign last night by the heads of the departments of Treasury and Finance — a development without precedent — has exploded the last hope Rudd and Labor have clung to: frightening the bejesus out of people that nasty Liberals would cut government spending “to the bone” and induce a recession that would cost jobs.
Here is a very simple outline of what appears to have occurred.
Some months ago, the ALP submitted “hypothetical” Liberal policies to Treasury for costing (as they are entitled to do).
Within the parameters of the material it supplied, the findings provided to the ALP suggested the hypothetical policies would be short funded to the tune of $70 billion.
Later — in due course, and in line with its legal obligations — the Coalition submitted its actual policies to the Parliamentary Budget Office for costing under the Charter of Budget Honesty; these were ticked off and no “black hole” was identified.
Today, Rudd has been running around brandishing the earlier, “hypothetical” costings, screaming “It’s a fraud! It’s an outrage! The Liberal Party will cut to the bone!”
So, admirably — and without being asked — the relevant department heads have taken the unheard-of step of releasing a statement to say that their departments never costed actual Coalition policies, and that Labor had been relying on findings into the hypothetical policies it supplied earlier this year.
Moreover, it seems Labor was warned that the research into the hypothetical material it supplied for “costing” could not be attributed to the Coalition at the time it was supplied — very simply because the Coalition was in no way involved in the process itself.
(Does that sum it up clearly? Here is The Australian‘s take on it too, in case I have missed anything critical, and for more on the statements from various senior public servants).
To be fair to Rudd, his proclamations today that Coalition costings amounted to “a fraud” featured a revision downward in the size of the alleged “black hole” to $10 billion, but that’s all the kudos he can take from what has now been clearly shown as a discredited smear.
This is — not to put too fine a point on it — the end of Labor’s election campaign.
Labor has fought the only election strategy it could: ignore its own record, claim underdog status, neutralise or outflank Coalition positions as appropriate on an issue-by-issue basis, and try to scare hell out of voters about what an Abbott government would do.
That strategy now lies in smoking ruins; at best, Rudd has been caught using incorrect material on which to base his attacks on the Liberals; at worst, the entire Labor campaign has been predicated on a systematic and deliberate lie to the Australian public when it knew what it was saying was a complete fiction.
Either way — as has been observed by others — the ALP has forced the public service mandarins to intervene, lest they be charged with aiding and abetting the ALP politically.
And act they have; whether on principle or fear of reprisal after 7 September, or perhaps (and understandably) a bit of both, Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson and Finance secretary David Tune — together with their counterpart at the Parliamentary Budget Office, Phil Bowen — are to be commended for acting to uphold transparency and honesty in the election process.
Labor, however, appears to still not get it.
After the public service statement, Treasurer Chris Bowen and Finance minister Penny Wong were, unwisely, insistent that Coalition policies contained an overall shortfall of $10 billion, and that a Liberal government would make “savage cuts” to find savings.
It’s one thing to legitimately find a shortfall in an opponent’s election costings, and then prosecute the failing until the cows come home.
But it is another matter altogether to campaign, knowingly, on a fabrication and a lie.
It’s worse still to keep doing so after an impartial third party has blown the whistle.
But we’re talking about the Labor Party, and “decency” is not a word that comes to mind.
Provided there is no game-changing gaffe from the Liberals (and it beggars belief that there will be), yesterday marks the point at which a Coalition triumph next week went from being likely to being a lay-down misere.
Nothing Labor says now can or indeed should be regarded as in any way accurate, reliable, credible, or uttered in good faith.
And in a clear sign the ALP does not learn from its mistakes, the parallels with Anna Bligh’s disastrous campaign in Queensland in 2012 — in which she continued to insist Campbell Newman had committed misconduct requiring CMC investigation, even as she admitted there was no evidence to support the claim — are astonishing.
In eight days time, Tony Abbott will be elected Prime Minister of Australia; it was always likely to be thus, but the scope of the belting Labor now seems destined to suffer has been largely and directly fuelled by its own conduct.
This is an ethically and morally bankrupt government, whose contribution to Australia is minimal, and whose Green-stained “legacy” will largely be erased in the next term of Parliament.
There is nothing left for Labor to campaign on. There is nothing it can say that is of any consequence. Its imbecile of a leader has permitted himself to be caught up in a fast and loose rendition of the truth, and very soon, his party will be annihilated.
For Labor, the party will shortly be over. Australia will be the better for it.