In Quadrant, January/February 2009, John Stone predicted that Julia Gillard would replace Kevin Rudd:
If and when the Coalition parties return to office, there are some lessons to be learned from all this. Meanwhile, too, the Rudd government — or what I suggest may be its likely successor before long, the Gillard government — would also do well to pay attention to those lessons. For example:
On budgetary policy, future governments should content themselves with what might be called (after Mrs Thatcher) a “handbag” approach. That is, budgets are there to be balanced—not over some mythical “cycle” or other, but, in other than the most extreme circumstances, annually. Nonsense of the kind that, at the time of writing, the Prime Minister is spouting, about doing “whatever it takes”, is just that—nonsense.
If “fiscal stimulus” is to be resorted to, then tax cuts are one thing, but a rising tide of (usually irreversible) current expenditures is quite another. That way, down the track, either taxes must rise from their already excessive levels, or deficits must re-open.
More generally, one of the best features of the Howard years was his emphasis on giving people choices. To quote again from my March article, many of the attitudes Howard brought to specific policy matters reflected his view “of the importance of giving people choices—to send their children to schools of their choice, to avail themselves of medical and hospital services of their choice, to sell their labour under conditions of their choosing, and so on. His stated ambition to make Australia ‘the greatest share-owning democracy in the world’—so redolent of Menzies’ ‘greatest home-owning democracy’—was in the same mould” (whatever the pall cast over that ambition by the current international financial upheaval).
One choice in particular—the freedom of individual Australians to sell their own labour under conditions of their choosing, and the associated freedom for employers to offer people jobs without interference from either trade union bullies or busybody industrial tribunals, became a fundamental in Howard’s approach to governing. As enumerated above, the resulting growth in the availability of jobs has been there for all to see.
On each of these points, the lessons of the Howard years do not seem to have been learned by his successors.
As one would expect from an almost twelve-year period presided over by a single prime minister, and for a policy area as complex and wide-ranging as the economy, the record of the Howard years is not without blemish. Nevertheless, the strong growth in real incomes, the huge growth in jobs, and the widely disseminated burgeoning of prosperity, however measured, can lead to only one (fair-minded) conclusion. These were good years for Australia. To judge by present portents, it may be some time before we see their like again.
Source: John Stone “Growth, Jobs and Prosperity”