Abbott was the north wind and Rudd was the sun

Sydney Morning Herald

Wednesday March 24, 2010


IN THE Aesop's fable where the north wind challenges the sun to a test of strength, the wind uses all its bluster to rip the cloak from a passing traveller.But the traveller only pulls his cloak more tightly around him and the wind gives up. When the sun takes its turn, it shines warmly and the traveller removes his cloak.In yesterday's health debate, Tony Abbott was the north wind. He was all aggression: "As leaders, our job is to make a difference, not just strike a pose." He went on to strike a very combative pose but had no policy to offer on public hospitals, nothing that might "make a difference." Kevin Rudd was a waffler who had given Australia "two years of gobbledygook" and who was guaranteed to offer more "distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies".The Prime Minister had medical experience - as an anaesthetist he had "some experience in the House of Representatives". He was guilty of an "insane spending spree" and the voting public would be "mugs" to trust him.Abbott's real target was the Prime Minister's political credibility. Abbott challenged Rudd's competence on ceiling insulation and school building projects, asking, "If we couldn't trust his old promises, how can we trust his new promises?" This is Rudd's key vulnerability - that he is ineffectual.It was trademark Abbott, all aggro. And in the gladiatorial clashes in Parliament, it works. But sitting next to a prime minister calmly offering a positive plan, it came across as unreasonable and sometimes undergraduate.The reaction of the travelling public was to pull its cloak more tightly about itself to ward off this north wind of negativity. Australian voters prefer problem-solving leaders to nay-sayers.Rudd very deliberately positioned himself as the sun. He exuded a benign, round-faced positivity, working hard to keep an unnatural smile on his face as he spoke. And he made repeated offers of faux warmth: "The time has come - let's work together on this, Tony."Rudd knows why. Because Abbott's entire approach to date is not to present himself as any sort of partner of the Prime Minister but as his implacable enemy.As he said in December, "Governments can't lose unless they actually have an opposition."And Rudd expected nothing more. His calls for co-operation are merely a rhetorical device for pointing up Abbott's oppositionism. If Rudd were sincere, he would have made early efforts to consult Abbott on hospitals. He didn't. Indeed, even as he was pleading for Abbott's goodwill, Labor was airing TV ads attacking him. Rudd was concealing his own aggression under an insincere offer of co-operation. Striking a pose.But while the appearance of positivity on the day worked for Rudd the sun king, the longer campaign might not. As Abbott and Barnaby Joyce proved in destroying Rudd's emissions trading scheme, over the longer run it is easier to run a negative campaign than a positive one.Abbott plans to blow hard enough and long enough to cloud the face of the sun.

© 2010 Sydney Morning Herald

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