"It seems almost completely politically motivated. He accepts that there's nothing sensible the Government can do to stop the downturn pushing the budget into deficit and he accepts the need for stimulus, which will add to the deficit. He claims the Government intends to borrow $200 billion (which is wilfully misleading) and then admits he would borrow only $22 to $27 billion less than Rudd plans to.
"And yet he cries crocodile tears about 'mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren,' a gross exaggeration of how long it will take to repay the debt."
Ross Gittins, in today's Herald.
Kevin Rudd has long been afraid the downturn in the economy will cost him re-election, making his Government a one-term wonder. Malcolm Turnbull knows the downturn offers the best chance he'll get to defy history and win the election, thus securing his own leadership.
These never-to-be-admitted truths explain the political games both men are playing over last week's budgetary stimulus package, even as the economy burns.
If you want to understand what's happening in the economy and the rights and wrongs of economic policy you have to be able to distinguish between the politics and the economics. But that's not easy because the pollies are always trying to disguise their political motives as economic.
Whatever successful politicians do or say, the political implications of what they do are never far from the front of their minds - even when they're doing just what they should be doing in the nation's interests.
As part of his long-running efforts to ensure he doesn't get blamed for the recession, Rudd has repeatedly emphasised how bleak the news is from overseas and how badly it will affect us. It's true, of course, but saying it so often and so forcefully risks adding to the blow to business and consumer confidence.
Rudd hopes he can escape blame for the downturn provided he's seen to have done his best to respond to it. That's partly why he keeps popping up every few weeks with another measure to counter it.
Even so, mainstream economic opinion - from the International Monetary Fund to the Australian Treasury and most macro-economists - has been urging the Government to use the budget to stimulate demand, to make the stimulus big and to get it happening as soon as possible.
It needs to be big because the global recession is expected to be so severe. It needs to start as soon as possible because getting in before the economy starts unravelling will be more effective.
Of course, the need for haste doesn't justify Rudd's attempt to push the legislation through Parliament in just a day or two.
Malcolm Turnbull's opposition to the $42 billion package is humbug. It seems almost completely politically motivated. He accepts that there's nothing sensible the Government can do to stop the downturn pushing the budget into deficit and he accepts the need for stimulus, which will add to the deficit. He claims the Government intends to borrow $200 billion (which is wilfully misleading) and then admits he would borrow only $22 to $27 billion less than Rudd plans to.
And yet he cries crocodile tears about "mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren" (a gross exaggeration of how long it will take to repay the debt), seeking to play on the public's naive instinct that governments shouldn't have debts.
He's trying to reinforce the Peter Costello-inculcated fiction that Labor is the party that gets the nation into debt whereas the Liberals are the party that pays it back and restores the budget to its God-ordered state of balance. (This conveniently overlooks that Paul Keating inherited a recession-swollen budget deficit from John Howard in 1983, which it took him five years to turn into an annual surplus.)
Turnbull's objection boils down to an arcane argument that a "permanent" tax cut would be more stimulatory than a once-only cash bonus. This is debatable. In any case, he's not proposing a permanent tax cut, just that the tax cuts already planned for this July and next be brought forward.
He seems to be playing on people's unconscious perception that tax cuts are a legitimate return of people's own money, whereas cash bonuses are just wasteful government spending.
Because they fail to see the similarities between the two measures, people fear the bonuses will be wasted on gambling or plasma TV sets or, worse, saved, whereas no one ever questions what people choose to do with their tax cuts.
But whatever his professed objections, Turnbull is desperately hoping the package will be passed by the minor parties in the Senate (who are busy playing their own attention-seeking games).
He knows that, were he to succeed in blocking the package, he'd incur the wrath of voters hanging out for their bonuses, as well as put himself in a position where Rudd could shift to him the blame for every bad economic development from now on, which may explain why he seemed to be wilting yesterday.
So why's he doing it? Because, after feeling constrained to avoid resisting Labor's changes to Work Choices and its climate change measures, his troops are desperate to start opposing things. Bipartisanship advantages governments and disadvantages oppositions.
Opposing the package got Turnbull back into the media spotlight. But he's also positioning himself for the next election. He wants to be able to say, "I told you it wouldn't work - all we've got to show for it is all that terrible debt".
This, of course, is the big political risk for Rudd. The package is likely to work; it will, to some extent, make the downturn less severe than it would have been. But that success will be unobservable and the package is unlikely to prevent us falling into recession, with rapidly increasing unemployment.
So it will be easy for people to imagine the package didn't work. And because Rudd is firing his big guns before most of the bad news has arrived, leaving him with less ammunition to fire closer to the election, this will compound the perception of failure.
Rudd is playing his own political games, of course. He's aware his cash hand-outs will go down well with voters and his choice of spending projects met political as well as economic criteria.
The most embarrassing proof of his packages' political focus is his failure to include the unemployed in his first cash splash and neglect to mention what they get in the second. In normal times there's little public sympathy for the jobless, so they lack political clout.
Rudd calls for bipartisanship while attacking Turnbull at every opportunity. And his magazine article blaming "neo-liberals" for the global financial crisis is an attempt to fit up Turnbull, which conveniently ignores the truth that the Hawke-Keating government did far more to deregulate the economy than did the Howard government.