Peter Smith

Dysfunction with a semi-new face

Apparently the keys are how Kevin Rudd can get on with his colleagues and others on and off-camera; how Labor parliamentarians who hate his guts will put their enmities aside and rally around Rudd in the great cause of staving off Abbott the Terrible, who “frightens and disturbs and concerns many Australians” according to Bob Carr, and who will tear down all of Labor’s glorious achievements.

Julia Gillard, who bravely battled sexism, will leave a rich legacy and make it easier for women PMs in the future. Let’s not mention her mendacity and incompetence. Power broker Bill Shorten was torn for weeks and only with great anguish, and at risk of losing friends, did he decide to tear down the lady he had helped foist on Australia three years’ ago.

Labor saved the country from economic disaster in 2009 and just why the country isn’t eternally grateful is obviously down to misperceptions on the part of the voters. Everyone on the Labor side concedes that they just didn’t do enough to correctly mould these perceptions. Everyone agrees that disunity was the root of their undoing.

These are some of the impressions I formed from listening to the ABC’s wall-to-wall coverage. I have little doubt this reflects most coverage.

I just wonder why voters are held in so low esteem by Labor politicians and the commentariat.

Some voters, of course, are rusted on to one side or the other. Some really don’t take notice. But discerning voters, those who swing elections, are influenced by policy. Leave aside the serial incompetence besetting the Rudd and Gillard years, which discerning voters also tend to notice, they know bad policy when they see it; and they know good policy.

It is not a matter of perception that uninvited and unwelcome boat arrivals of so-called refugees have reached epidemic proportions. Nor is it a matter of perception that under John Howard boat arrivals were reduced to a trickle. Overturning good policy has had dire consequences. That was Rudd’s doing and Gillard failed to find a solution. Discerning voters noticed.

It is not a matter of perception that Australia has a so-called carbon pollution tax at least four times the level of any comparable levy elsewhere, against the solemn promise not to introduce one; nor that this damages the competitive position of Australian industry at a time when lay-offs are occurring and unemployment is edging up.

It is not a matter of perception that the Rudd and Gillard governments, having added around $200 billion to Australia’s debt in six years and with deficit after deficit forecast, persisted in promising that surpluses were at hand.

It is not a matter of perception that the mining tax, which impaired Australia’s sovereign-risk rating, increased administrative costs for mining companies, and was implemented at exactly the wrong time (i.e., when mining investment was under pressure and declining), has raised no material revenue.

It is not a matter of perception that the immensely expensive policy to connect broadband fibre to every home was not properly subjected to cost benefit analysis.

Finally, it is not a matter of perception that immensely expensive reforms to education and, more particularly, to disability care have been rushed through Parliament without exhaustive scrutiny and consideration; apparently in the now forlorn cause of helping Gillard’s electoral prospects, and/or of cementing her legacy.

Apparently it’s now good enough to author an un-costed scheme, giving unspecified benefits. This is how to build a legacy on a scheme which only cuts in at some future time beyond the next parliament.

I hope, I think, I know that sufficient discerning voters will surely see through the musical chairs, focus on the abysmal policy settings, and boot this government out of office, even with a smiling resuscitated Rudd at its head.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economic

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