Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Mark Latham’s great big policy unknown

New Opposition Leader Mark Latham has had many a word on all things "aspirational" – except the big daddy of them all: four wheel drives.

Even today, he was giving nothing away on this front:

"I believe in an upwardly mobile society where people can climb the rungs of opportunity, climbing the ladder of opportunity to a better life for themselves and their family" [Mr Latham said], nominating healthcare, education and early childhood development as priority areas.

While Latham has at least drawn an explicit connection between people bettering themselves and higher education – while PM John Howard has repeatedly implied the opposite – Latham is going to have to declare his hand regarding four wheel drive policy sooner or later.

My gut feeling is that Latham will be unwilling or unable to do the obvious right thing – to tax the Weapons-Grade Volvos off the road, and off the off-road, too (currently, of course, they actually receive concessional tax treatment).

The four wheel drive issue certainly correlates with the existence of an inner-city/outer-suburbs divide. Just as importantly, though, is its coincidence with THE generational border* – “me first”, taxpayer-subsidised four wheel drives are both a symbolic boomer shibboleth, as well as a handy real-world perk around town.

Some commentators have described Latham’s step-up as the coming of Generation X. Born in 1961, Latham certainly doesn’t qualify under my calculations. If he wimps out on four wheel drive policy, I hope that Labor will get its consequent just desserts at the next poll – electoral carnage in the inner-city, forgotten heartland.

* Letter from Michael Albrecht

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