The biggest failing of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister was that he never really got rid of the old man smell of the Howard Government. The Monday after the 2007 election Paul Keating said:
The reaction for me was, as I said in a piece in the Herald this morning, was not one of happiness. Some people said, "oh you must be happy". I said no, I was just so relieved that the toxicity of this government had gone, you know? That this dreadful, vicious show, which had been around for all these years, you know, the active disparagement of particular classes and groups.
You know, John Howard said to Miranda Devine in the Sun Herald a week ago that his great achievement he said was to, you know, turn over political correctness. In other words what he thought was really good was to be politically incorrect, you know, to be able to sling off at someone's colour or their religion, you know. And in a country of immigrants, this is poison for this society, poison for us.
I mean now, you know, look how cautious people have got about, you know, this omnipresent government with its viciousness, you know? When it left it was like a, I felt like, you know sometimes you see people at factories, they've been in a plant that's got toxic stuff on them, they get hosed down later? I felt on Saturday night I'd been hosed down.
Many on the left felt the same way. And things looked good – the signing of the Kyoto Agreement, the Apology, the 2020 Summit all looked like things were going to be different. No longer was the Howard way going to be the right way; the air seemed clear and fresh.
But then there was the Government's tepid and altogether weak response to the 2020 Summit – only going with ideas that were bland and inoffensive. Then there was Rudd’s massively over the top reaction to the Bill Henson photos (a play straight out of the Howard book), followed by the craven cowardice of not talking about deficit at all because Howard and Costello had convinced everyone that a surplus was always good and a deficit was always bad.
It was obvious that the air wasn't really fresh at all – it has just been a few sprays of Glen 20, but when that faded the stench was still there.
Rudd never carved out a real difference for his Government. He kept running for the next election – doing things that you would do in an election campaign and not doing things because you wouldn’t do them in an election campaign – ie anything that would alienate a single voter. The old Keating adage of “Change the Government; change the country” didn’t happen. The reason is because of something Keating also said earlier in 2007:
The Labor Party is not going to profit from having these proven unsuccessful people around who are frightened of their own shadow and won't get out of bed in the morning unless they've had a focus group report to tell them which side of bed to get out.
Oh yes we got rid of WorkChoices, and they began finally spending on infrastructure, did excellent stuff on education and they did great work getting us through the GFC. But because of the Senate they couldn’t not really change too much, and truth be told they didn’t try all that hard. And the one area Rudd kept largely untouched was Howard’s worst economic legacy to this country – middle-class welfare.
The closest he came was the means testing of the Medicare rebate and he lost that fight because of a Senate containing a fool and a bunch of LNP Senators who did not give a toss that people might think they were obstructionist.
In the 2007 election campaign Rudd made a big deal about how “this reckless spending must stop”, but at no stage in his Government did he really stop the spending if it could harm his re-election chances. And so the economic sense of entitlement inherited from the Howard years still hangs around heavily over Australia. That sense that we don’t want foreigners coming here and bludging off the system; that we think everyone should work hard to get ahead and that the Government should give us money.
Yes Rudd did means test the baby bonus and Family Tax Benefit A. But he set them both at $150,000 per family, but really two parents both earning $70,000 a year does not suggest a family doing it tough. The disgrace of course was the Liberal Party under Nelson at the time fought against this measure as though it was the most penury measure ever suggested.
This brings me to today’s policy announcements by Julia Gillard. She was in Cairns where she announced a change to the baby bonus that would allow people to claim $500 up front. The old baby bonus under Howard was a big hit of $3,000 up front. Anecdotally many thought of it as the plasma bonus because that’s where a lot of the money went. (I should say I am wary of “anecdotal evidence” because such things lead to idiocy like suggesting teenagers got pregnant just to claim the bonus). Rudd at least changed it to a fortnightly payment so that it would likely go to paying real family bills. Julia’s change to the possibility (you need to apply for it) of $500 up front is a bit of a shift to the bad old days.
Admittedly I don’t think it is a huge economic sin – afterall $500 is not going to go too far if you’re after some electronic goods, and it is just enough to cover things like a pram and cot. But it does highlight that under Rudd and now Gillard we’re still talking in terms that Howard was comfortable with – and in fact introduced.
Then there was the news that Gillard was extending the current funding arrangements for private schools until 2013. So on that score we’re also stuck in the Howard world. The fact that under Rudd you just knew there was no chance that the school funding arrangements would change was just further evidence that the Rudd Government was doing everything it could to not annoy people who voted for John Howard in 96,98,01, and 04. Rudd seemed to forget they voted for him in 07.
Now I did not expect Gillard to do any different in an election campaign than she has done on the educational funding – that would have been absolutely suicidal. But the problem is she hasn’t had time to stake out her own sphere – some may have said waiting till October might have helped, but really even then it would have just lengthened the election campaign to 3 months. She inherited Rudd’s Government – and the old man Howard smell that it still had, only an election win will have any chance of getting rid of that. The one thing she could have done to do a quick Glen 20 spray would have been to announce a real climate change policy and, well… sigh, as we know, she did not deliver this speech.
This election is vitally important for Labor, because if they lose – and that is a bloody real possibility (in fact I’m almost at the point of saying it is more likely than not) – then Abbott will absolutely and completely clean out any sense of the Rudd years. He won’t use Glen 20, he – like Howard in 1996 – will totally fumigate the country. He will paint the Rudd years as ones of mismanagement and economic failure – which if you have much of an economic brain you know is completely untrue. But truth won’t matter (he is unlikely to be held to account at any rate). And the ALP (if how they acted throughout much of the Howard years will be any guide) will cower in shame.
The 2 1/2 Years of Rudd will be wiped away. And to be honest, Rudd and the ALP will only have themselves to blame: they never really believed the people wanted to be rid of the Howard smell.
First let us cast our minds back to April. Tony Abbott then suggested:
No more dole, Tony Abbott warns the under-30s
TONY Abbott has proposed banning the dole for people under 30 in a bid to entice the unemployed to head west and fill massive skill shortages in the booming resources sector.
The Opposition Leader made the controversial remarks during a two-hour meeting with about 15 senior resources industry leaders in Perth on Monday night.
Mr Abbott told the roundtable briefing he believed stopping dole payments to able-bodied young people would take pressure off the welfare system and reduce the need to bring in large numbers of skilled migrants to staff mining projects.
Yep those lousy no-good kids could leave their friends and family and go work in the mines. Do ‘em some good. Because we know they are all dope smoking, hemp wearing, gang banging, lazy, slackers.
Now let’s fast forward to today and Abbott in Marjorie, Beryl and Arthur territory at a Brisbane RSL to release his policy on older unemployed (those over 50). He announced:
employers will receive $3,200 for taking on an unemployed worker aged over 50 for at least six months.
Yep, because we know all those unemployed persons over the age of 50 are hard working true-blue Australians who just want to get a bit of a helping hand so they can get back to working hard and being true blue.
A play straight from the John Howard economics handbook.
The polls now pretty well suggest it is 50-50 (the latest on that score is the Morgan Poll out tonight). 50-50 won’t do it for the ALP. Now maybe this week hasn’t really flowed through yet – for the ALP and Julia certainly has been much better this week – much, much better. The focus on the economy is great and they really need to keep hammering away at Abbott on the economy because he and Hockey are complete dills on the subject (read The SMH’s Peter Hartcher to see just how bad).
But unless things begin to change the youth and anyone seemingly left leaning will be left in the cold, and those most happy will be Beryl, Marjorie,Arthur, John and Howard…