Will Gillard be any better than Rudd?by national correspondentNews Weekly
, July 24, 2010
Regardless of the purported issues of the 2010 campaign, including health, the economy and climate change, the federal election will be fought on two fundamental and competing propositions.
On the one hand the Labor Party will be attempting to portray itself as a fresh force for change, with a dynamic, progressive and formidable new leader in the form of the first Australian female prime minister, Julia Gillard.
Labor will push the idea that Ms Gillard is a new leader who has been prepared to own up to the mistakes of the past, make the tough decisions, and "move on" with a new set of policies.
For its part the Coalition will be arguing that Ms Gillard was actually part of the problem, rather than the solution to the problem. It will argue that there is nothing new about Ms Gillard at all.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will be mounting the charge that the actual problem has been that of an abysmal first-term government, which has made blunder after blunder in an ill-judged need to remain popular at all times and at any cost.
In reality, all of the so-called "tough" decisions made by former and current prime ministers Rudd and Gillard (who were part of a tight-knit team) were almost entirely comprised of backtracking on previous disastrous policy decisions.
The pattern became predictable — a mistake was made, a remedy was applied, and the Government sought to be congratulated for its good work for patching over a problem of its own making.
This was the case on the emissions-trading scheme (ETS), on the free home-insulation fiasco, on its profligate spending, on the resources super profits tax (RSPT), and on asylum-seekers.
The Rudd Government seemed to operate on the premise: never mind the results, just make sure you get "the messages" right and move on to the next issue.
So far under Ms Gillard, little appears to have changed.
Australia has had a "get big" population policy; now we have a keep-it-small sustainable population policy.
We had a climate change policy where Australia was to lead the world in making dramatic cuts; now we have a policy where (maybe) we will follow the world in a few years' time.
The only area where the Government can claim genuine kudos for its efforts was in avoiding the severe economic downturn which hit other parts of the world, particularly in the northern hemisphere.
But even here the Rudd Government got it wrong.
Its first Budget was predicated on stopping the "inflation genie" getting out of the bottle.
Then, when the financial crisis spread from the United States across the Atlantic to Britain and Europe, the Government went too far the other way by going on a massive spending spree, blowing the surplus and putting the government deep in deficit.
It is clear now the global financial crisis was largely a North Atlantic crisis and the Rudd Government went overboard on pump-priming the economy, wasting billions on consumer goods with no long-term benefit to the nation.
The cash handouts and school building program helped prevent an economic downturn, but a major factor was the continued demand for our coal, iron ore and gas from China and other parts of the local region.
The Coalition will correctly argue that the Deputy Prime Minister was there for every decision and every mistake that the former Prime Minister made, and in fact contributed to her fair share as well in the form of the $12 billion Building Education Revolution (BER) scheme.
The scramble to get set for the election has been a logistical nightmare for the Labor Party machine.
Pamphlets with photographs of a smiling Mr Rudd with every Labor candidate have had to be pulped, while Ms Gillard has been quietly shuttled around the country re-shooting campaign pictures and footage for advertising.
But the new PM has been pulping policies as well. One after another, the Rudd/Gillard Government's policies have been thrown overboard, to be replaced by new policies of the Gillard Government.
The mining tax has been largely dismantled and is nothing like the original model designed by Treasury boss Dr Ken Henry, and will bring in substantially less revenue.
And in its efforts to find a solution to the asylum-seeker problem, the Gillard Government appears to be continuing the mistakes of making poor policy decisions on the run.
Will the people be convinced with these re-badging efforts?
The Australian people do cut new governments considerable slack. They gave Gough Whitlam a second term. The first Hawke Government and the first Howard Government made many mistakes, but they also learnt from those mistakes.
There is little doubt the Rudd/Gillard administration has governed badly, largely because the former Prime Minister was more interested in rhetoric than substance and because he tried to make too many decisions within his tight group of ministers, one of whom — Ms Gillard — was a key member.
Under Mr Rudd, decision-making was based on polling and gaining short-term popularity boosts, media hits, and, incredibly, minute-by-minute "twittering".
These media-driven tactics are used by state governments to maintain voter interest in what they are doing, but they cannot work at a national level.
The question is whether Ms Gillard is able to extricate herself from this style of government and become a more considered and formidable leader.
Her job will be to convince the Australian people that she is indeed different, and that the Labor Party is prepared to change.
Mr Abbott's job will be to convince the people that nothing has changed under Ms Gillard, and more of the same can be expected if she wins a second term.
Mr Rudd's fall from power was spectacular and unprecedented in Labor politics.
Now it is up to the people to decide whether Ms Gillard has really learnt the lessons of his downfall.