EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
What the federal election comes down to...
, August 17, 2013
Following a month of frenetic activity after assuming the Labor leadership on June 26, Kevin Rudd decided to hold the federal election on September 7, a week earlier than it had been foreshadowed by the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
The defeat of Ms Gillard was followed by the resignation of some of the government’s most senior figures, including the Treasurer, as well as ministers for defence, communications, climate change, agriculture, trade and school education. They resigned rather than work under Mr Rudd.
After his defeat of Julia Gillard as Labor leader — the culmination of years of destabilisation of her leadership — Rudd declared that the negativity and destructive politics at the federal level must stop.
He was not referring to himself, but rather to the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott.
“I recognise that Mr Abbott is a man steeped in the power of negative politics and he is formidable at negative politics. But I see no evidence of a real positive plan for our country’s future,” he said. “I’m seeking to respond to your call that I’ve heard from so many of you to do what I can to prevent Mr Abbott from becoming Prime Minister.”
Over the course of July, Rudd visited Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to reverse the government’s failed asylum-seeker policy which has caused an explosion in the number of asylum-seekers arriving at Christmas Island and destroyed the government’s credibility in securing the country’s borders.
This culminated in the agreement with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, to transfer future asylum-seekers to PNG where they will be detained, processed and, if found to be refugees, resettled.
Mr Rudd announced with a flurry that he was sending “a clear and undiluted message to every people-smuggler in the world that your business model is basically undermined”. He took out full-page advertisements in the press and ran announcements on television, warning that no future asylum-seekers would be settled in Australia.
Mr Rudd announced that he would “terminate” the carbon tax in mid-2014. It will be replaced by an emissions trading scheme (ETS), whose carbon price is set in the European Union.
But, as leading business journalist Terry McCrann observed, “Kevin Rudd is not ditching the carbon tax. He isn’t even cutting it. Your power prices won’t fall by a single cent on his announcement. All he is doing is engaging in a classic pre-election ploy.”
The Prime Minister secured commitments by state, independent and Catholic school systems to Labor’s National Education (“Gonski”) Reforms, which promised future large funding increases for schools.
He also changed his mind and now supports “same-sex marriage”.
Additionally, he announced a shake-up in ALP rules, designed to prevent challenges to an existing ALP leader — rules which he himself used to overthrow Julia Gillard. He also announced he would restructure the NSW Labor Party branch, which has been gravely damaged since former NSW ALP power-brokers were found to be corrupt by the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
And finally, incoming Treasurer Chris Bowen announced that (a) the federal government deficit this year will rise above $30 billion, (b) there will be a new tax on bank savings, and (c) fringe benefits tax concessions will be closed.
Having “solved” the problems of the Gillard government, Mr Rudd promised “a new way” and “new politics”, as he sought a fresh mandate from the Australian people.
On the other side, Tony Abbott was positively restrained. Warning that “Australians face the clearest choice in a generation”, he said the Coalition’s plan “will deliver a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia”.
He reiterated his pledge to repeal Labor’s carbon tax and mining tax; promised a review of all government spending to bring the budget back to surplus; and proposed a stronger border-protection policy, led by a three-star general, to deter asylum-seekers.
“By contrast, Labor just offers more of the same: more talk, more chaos, more division, more debt, more deficits, more taxes and more boats,” he said.
“Only the Coalition can form the strong, stable government to deliver a stronger economy with more jobs, real help for families and small business, lower taxes, and secure borders.”
A Coalition government will undoubtedly slash public expenditure to bring down government deficits.
This will worsen unemployment, reduce tax revenue and increase the welfare bill. To counter this, a Coalition government must mobilise some of Australia’s $1.3 trillion superannuation funds for major national investment projects.
Amid all the confusion and media chatter, Australians have a clear choice between a continuation of the crisis-driven and divisive policies of the Rudd and Gillard governments, or the more measured, consultative policies which will be implemented by a government led by Mr Abbott.
As Tony Abbott has observed, Kevin Rudd is an accomplished election campaigner. The unanswered question is whether Australians will trust him once again.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.