How Rudd took out an AVO against Kevin07
It is all a bit hazy now. But this time three years ago there was a real buzz around Kevin Rudd, a sense of excitement on the part of many voters that the Howard era was coming to an end, making way for a fresh, modern, forward-thinking leader who better suited the times.
Someone who recognised and would act on the challenge of climate change, who understood the importance of broadband, wanted a more humane approach to border protection, believed working families deserved a better deal on issues such as childcare. Someone who was also a self-described fiscal conservative who understood the importance of maintaining a surplus and not driving the nation into debt.
Superficially at least, Rudd’s 2007 campaign had a similar vibe to the victories of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the United States and the UK – Clinton after 12 years of Republican rule, Blair after 18 years of Tory domination, both of them young men, Clinton, saxophone in hand, jiving on stage to Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”, Blair in shirt sleeves, smiling broadly and looking upwards as if to a better future to the sounds of “Things Can Only Get Better”.
But today the Kevin07 T-shirts are being quietly folded away. The promise of 2007 has largely evaporated as the Prime Minister has taken out a virtual AVO against his former self. The Government seems bogged down in process, prone to indecision and inconsistency, more adept at scheduling summits than implementing the ideas they generate, and led by a man who is happy to shred some of his most sacred convictions in the belief that it will help him secure a second term.
As he steels himself for the election campaign, Mr Rudd could do worse than borrow the inspirational slogan used by former NSW Premier Morris Iemma – “More to do but heading in the right direction” – as it captures not just his failure to deliver but also the dispiriting lack of ambition which now overshadows his tenure as PM.
The polls still point to a Rudd victory later this year – credit for which should go in large part to Tony Abbott who, as a hard-wired attack politician, has done a much better job thus far at chronicling government failure than telling the voters what an Abbott Government would look like.
But should Rudd be returned, there will be none of the euphoria which surrounded his 2007 victory on the part of swinging voters and small-l liberal voters who once regarded him as an exciting alternative to John Howard.
For those voters, the looming federal election looks every bit as depressing as the NSW poll scheduled for May next year in which a tired Labor Government which has consistently failed to deliver goes up against a carping, policy-free Opposition which is simply waiting for the incumbent to fall over.
The past few weeks in federal politics have been described euphemistically as a “deck-clearing exercise” ahead of the poll. They have been much more dramatic than that. Some of the most fundamental elements of Rudd’s political being have been junked for base political motives.
For a party that often treated John Howard as some kind of white-hooded racist on border protection, Labor’s reversal on the processing of asylum claims from Sri Lankans and Afghanis is an audacious display of poll-driven political expediency.
The backflip on the creation of childcare centres might be based on sound policy, in that the market would be distorted with the creation of thousands of new childcare places for which there is limited or no demand. But it still stands as a betrayal of the “working families” rhetoric Labor used to such great electoral effect, with “the dreaded double drop-off” being a catch line Rudd happily inherited from predecessor Kim Beazley.
In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary the BER was defended as flawless in its execution; it is now the subject of a multi-million dollar inquiry into misspending and possible kick-backs.
Having attacked the Howard Government and employers over their opposition to industrial manslaughter laws, the Rudd Government did nothing as its own insulation scheme was directly linked to the deaths of four tradespeople, arguing the program was not only an important plank of the stimulus strategy, but had delivered real benefits to home-owners and created jobs. That too has now been scrapped in its entirety.
And this week, the biggest backflip of all – the shelving of an emissions trading scheme, the greatest moral challenge of our time, now stuck in the bottom of the in-tray as the government capitulates to voter disquiet about the cost of the scheme and the need for such dramatic action as the rest of the world pulls back on climate change.
The importance of climate change in defining Rudd’s Kevin07 persona cannot be overstated. Along with broadband – which itself looks distant and almost illusory through its handling by Rudd in government - climate change was central to Kevin Rudd’s very being in the lead-up to the 2007 poll. And now it is as good as gone.
That said, the logical hole in Tony Abbott’s grandstanding on the climate change question should not pass without comment. If climate change was central to the Rudd brand in 2007, it was also the defining characteristic of Abbott’s ascent to the leadership in 2009.
Abbott was able to seize the leadership because Malcolm Turnbull had misread the mood of conservative voters and many swinging voters on climate change, and alienated many in the party room by waltzing up the aisle hand-in-hand with Kevin Rudd on the ETS question.
Under Abbott there is obviously no way that the Opposition would ever vote for Rudd’s ETS. And without the support of independents in the Senate, I am not sure what Kevin Rudd is meant to do to implement the policy – perhaps turn up every day Parliament sits calling a fresh vote on a bill that he knows is doomed to fail?
For Abbott to have seized the leadership and campaigned since on the fact that Rudd’s ETS is unnecessary and unworkable, it now looks like transparent opportunism for him to be attacking Rudd for failing to introduce the scheme.
As things currently stand Australia faces an electoral contest between an empty vessel who is on the run from his former self, and an opponent who is terrific at capitalising on government failure, but still struggling to explain whether his own positions on important issues such as maternity leave or welfare reform are actually policies, or just ideas which happened to enter his head when the microphones were on.
If the polls are correct and Labor is returned, it will be less an impassioned endorsement of Rudd than a reflection of voter reluctance to turf a government after just one term, especially up against what still looks like a vague alternative.
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