I had been worried that the ‘big government conservatism’ critique of the Howard government may actually please its Ministers, helping to fend off attacks from the left and claim the much fought over middle-of-the road voters. And that seems to be the case. In his quasi-rebuttal of CIS criticism in this morning’s Australian, Finance Minister Nick Minchin says:
IN politics, fighting battles on two fronts is an unavoidable obligation for parties aspiring to hold the middle ground. ….
Such criticisms delineated a bizarre dichotomy between the Government’s critics on the Right, deriding us for creating a nanny state, and the more predictable Labor attacks that the Government was heartless and meanspirited.
Rudd says the Government spends too little on education, while the CIS bemoans that real per-capita education spending has grown faster under the Coalition than Labor. Rudd attempts to portray the Government as attacking working families, while the CIS has the Government showering these same families with undeserved largesse.
Ah yes, and the Coalition is in the sensible centre. But Minchin is still sensitive to the claim that his is a big-spending government. Though conceding that
It is true that spending on health, education and social security has risen under the Howard Government. It is true that in real terms the Howard Government spends more in these areas than Labor did.