CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Can Julia Gillard deliver on her three core commitments?
, May 14, 2011
We are now almost halfway through Julia Gillard’s self-proclaimed “Year of Decision and Delivery”, yet seemingly as far away as ever from securing agreements on a host of issues from a carbon tax to a workable border-protection policy.
Beset from all sides in a fractured and complex Parliament, Prime Minister Gillard looks increasingly as if she is merely in power to hold together a crippled government.
The central conundrum facing the Gillard Government is its seeming inability to prosecute and deliver on a policy.
This may be fine for a steady-as-she goes conservative government, which is not hell-bent on reform for reform’s sake, but for the Labor Party it is a disaster.
The problem started with the Rudd Government and has continued with the Gillard Government, but for different reasons.
In hindsight, the Rudd Government was guilty of trying to do too many things on too many fronts while succeeding in barely any. Mr Rudd was grandiose in his promises on such things as eliminating homelessness or tackling the moral issue of climate change, but poor on follow-through.
In a candid reflection recently, Kevin Rudd as much as admitted this.
Asked by a viewer on ABC television’s Q & A program if he had learnt anything from his sudden involuntary termination, Mr Rudd had this to say:
“When I reflect back it was [former Victorian Liberal premier] Jeff Kennett, would you believe, who gave me this advice which I did not properly listen to prior to becoming prime minister: if you become a head of government leave yourself time to think, reflect and plan.”
Mr Rudd’s government was 24/7 bedlam, and Ms Gillard pledged to be more sober and reflective in her policy decisions.
In reality, Ms Gillard has spent a lot of time stepping away from the vaulted promises and undeliverable commitments made by Mr Rudd.
On the other hand, Ms Gillard herself justified her decision to challenge for the leadership in June of last year because the government had “lost its way”.
But, in reality, how different are things close to 12 months later?
Ms Gillard’s chief claim to competence has been her ability to win over the Greens and two ex-National Party independents to secure her in the Lodge.
But this has not resulted in any major achievements, apart from some hospitals in Tamworth and Port Macquarie.
Not surprisingly, it is the independents who are the second least likely MPs to walk away from her now.
As of today, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott will be punished severely at the next election and will almost certainly lose their seats. Their only hope of survival is a turnaround in the fortunes of the Gillard Government. Indeed, there are Labor MPs who are far more likely to pull the plug on Ms Gillard than the two so-called conservative independents.
And, despite the rhetoric, the Greens are absolutely behind Ms Gillard.
But, as each month passes, Ms Gillard faces a new series of problems such as the push to curb poker machines (as demanded by Tasmania’s Andrew Wilkie and SA Senator Nick Xenaphon).
More and more groups are distancing themselves from the carbon tax.
Ms Gillard gave away massive concessions to the country’s two largest miners — BHP and Rio Tinto — on the mining tax. However, her generosity (with tens of billions of taxpayers’ money) has now been spurned.
Without a hint of gratitude for this largesse, the mining giants recently warned the Labor Government that Australia should not move further ahead than other competitor nations in inflicting a tax on industry.
Meanwhile, Tony Abbott is running a relentless guerrilla warfare campaign against the government. Mr Abbott is stealing the support of working Australians in the mining and manufacturing sectors who might ordinarily have supported Labor.
The carbon tax, according to Mr Abbott, will cost Australians jobs and push up the cost of living.
Ms Gillard is banking on three things to save her government.
First, she thinks the return to a budget surplus will highlight Labor’s economic credentials. Second, once the carbon tax is passed, there will be a “what-was-all-the-fuss-about?” acknowledgement from voters, which will backfire on Mr Abbott. And, third, the roll-out of the national broadband will be greeted with gratitude from voters who will finally receive “world-class” internet downloads and other telecommunication benefits.
The hopes of Labor are pinned on these three things, but they too may be dashed.
The more likely outcome is that a carbon tax (just like the GST) will never be popular — except among affluent inner-city types who genuinely believe that any gesture on climate change, however symbolic, must be a good idea.
A return to a budget surplus will get some ticks from the bankers and economists, but voters have not forgotten there was a massive budget surplus in place when John Howard left government in 2007. Furthermore, a government surplus will be meaningless for everyday Australians who are dealing with more prosaic problems such as electricity, petrol and food bills and mortgages and rents.
And on broadband, if the school halls and pink-batts programs are any guide, there are likely to be many hold-ups, cost overruns and other problems before the benefits are realised.
In terms of “deliverables”, Ms Gillard will be hoping the second half of her big year will be a marked improvement on the first half.