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Review of Budget week; notable quotes from politicians

PETER THOMPSON: As Paul Keating and John Hewson see it, the electorate now has a clear choice between the Government's combination of One Nation and the Budget Job Initiatives, and the Coalition's free enterprise Fightback ethic. After a week of Budget lockups, news conferences, lengthy radio interviews and statements in reply, our chief political correspondent, Maxine McKew, has been musing on what it all adds up to.

MAXINE McKEW: It's been a week of words from our politicians, but have any of them been thought-provoking, exciting or, heaven forbid, moving or inspirational? Paul Keating gave us this gem:

PAUL KEATING: We're going to paint Dr Hewson and his policies, which are basically about survival of the fittest, the Gordon Gecko view of the world, you know, greed is good.

MAXINE McKEW: It's a mildly entertaining crack, but its meaning is probably lost on anyone who hasn't seen the movie Wall Street. And the Prime Minister obviously hasn't got the message that the electorate couldn't be less interested in name calling. John Hewson? Well, this was his post-Budget offering.

JOHN HEWSON: People want the dignity of work and the dignity of a job. They don't want a welfare cheque.

MAXINE McKEW: With that remark you could hear 18-year-olds all over the country saying: Yes, but there aren't any jobs. And the one forecast that the Opposition doesn't disagree with is that unemployment will still be around 10 per cent next year. With his programmed responses and monotonal delivery, John Hewson leaves many voters utterly comatose. And Paul Keating's more lively but lethal invective only serves to reinforce a lot of electoral loathing. Time was when the Keating magic mesmerised room, but this week at the traditional Financial Review post-Budget dinner, many of the Prime Minister's claims drew laughter, in particular the lunacy of suggesting that it was the Coalition that had made an issue out of the New Zealand economic experiment, when it's only a matter of weeks since the Victorian Labor Party was airing anti-New Zealand TV ads.

John Dawkins hasn't fared much better with his choice of words. He spent practically every waking moment since Tuesday night explaining how additional taxes might or might not be needed to pay for other tax cuts. The least appreciated words of the week, from the Government's point of view, came from Bob Hawke. 'There's now a big question mark hanging over the Government', intoned the former PM, who, no doubt, enjoyed the coverage his remarks attracted. The big question for Mr Hawke: will he continue to be a regular Government critic.

So with all these words, what's been said? Where's the big picture, the large ideas, the plan for the next generation? There's a best-seller in the United States at the moment; it's a book about a speech made up of 272 words that took a couple of minutes to deliver. It's Garry Wills' new book about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Reviewers have suggested that the book is as popular as it is because of a thirst for the rhetoric of large, inspirational ideas, at a time when Americans are saddled with an inarticulate President with impoverished thought processes. By contrast, Lincoln used words to lead, to give an intellectual framework and hence real meaning to the sort of society he was attempting to forge. What a novel idea.

PETER THOMPSON: Maxine McKew in Canberra.