CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Will the economy spoil Rudd's party?
, March 15, 2008
Mr Rudd knows the honeymoon will soon be over and only the tough decisions lie ahead.The first 100 days of the new Labor Government went off with considerable hoopla with Kevin Rudd conducting extended interviews with national newspapers declaring loftily that the thing he was most proud of was keeping faith with voters. "Trust in politics is core, it's critical, it's the coin of politics," Mr Rudd told the Melbourne Age (March 1, 2008).
"And unless you are maintaining people's trust ... then it undermines your ability to lead the country in the future when hard decisions arise."
At the same time, Mr Rudd went for the jugular in attacking the Howard Government's consistently strongest boast - its competent steering of the Australian economy over the past decade.
Mr Rudd's office also released a booklet - "First 100 Days" - printed and paid for by the Labor Party, outlining the achievements of the new government.2020 summit
The "achievements" included the launching of dozens of inquiries and the setting up of many committees, including the Australia 2020 summit to provide long-term ideas for the newly-elected Government to implement.
But the big four actions of the Rudd Government have been symbolic - saying sorry to the "Stolen Generations", ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, the decision to pull Australian troops out of Iraq when the next rotation becomes due, and introducing legislation to get rid of WorkChoices.
In reality, a substantial part of WorkChoices will be retained and many of the much-despised Australian Workplace Agreements will remain in place for up to five years.
Even on climate change Mr Rudd has adopted (an entirely sensible) cautious approach in response to the interim report by Professor Ross Garnaut who suggested Australia had to make deeper cuts to greenhouse emissions than had been promised by Labor at the election.
In simple terms, Mr Rudd's new government has been industrious but steady, with none of the overblown gestures of the first Whitlam Government or the early blunders of the Hawke Government.
On the other hand, it has flagged decisions on governance which, if implemented fully, are worthy.
Although it is early days, the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Harry Jenkins, appears to be trying to show genuine independence and to make ministers answer questions in the parliament.
Mr Rudd has suggested that parliament will take taxpayer-funded advertising, which was badly abused by the previous government, out of the hands of politicians.
He has also decided to ban overseas donations, reducing the declarable limit from $10,000 to $1,000, as well as flagging a possible cap on all donations.
Most of all, though, Mr Rudd concentrated the rhetoric of the first 100 days on the economy and particularly on the failures of his predecessors.
At this stage of the political cycle Mr Rudd sees no need to attack a demoralised Opposition.
Mr Rudd accuses the former Howard Government of having wasted the windfall of the resources boom which has provided tens of billions in unexpected revenue.
He says the Howard regime failed to use the boom to invest in the future in upgrading skills, education and building infrastructure.
And, finally, Mr Rudd attacked the former government over its profligacy and in failing to bring inflation under control earlier.
The reason for the attacks on the now retired John Howard and soon-to-be-retired Peter Costello is for one simple reason - Mr Rudd knows the economy faces troubled times and he does not want to carry the can for this.End of boom
It is becoming increasingly apparent that Australia's long boom is coming to an end, either through Reserve Bank action on interest rates, overseas factors - or both.
For a party that promised to ease mortgage and rental pain, and stop soaring grocery and petrol prices, there always needed to be a change of rhetoric, and Mr Rudd is using the failings of the previous government as the excuse he needs to back away.
Despite the boom, Australia's terms of trade are awful and foreign debt now stands at $600 billion and its annual current account deficit is $61.7 billion.
Mr Rudd knows the honeymoon will soon be over and only the tough decisions lie ahead.