Gillard survived but she didn’t fix anything
Julia Gillard has survived another year as Prime Minister.
No-one should be surprised. The member for Lalor has proven to be a formidable and determined politician. It is unlikely that this hung parliament would have lasted as long as it has, had anyone else been at the helm.
Having so far weathered the AWU storm, the PM will now hope to emerge on the other side of the summer break with a fresh election year agenda ahead of her. We will hear much about equity for disability sufferers and their carers and rebuilding the education system; noble causes and necessary reforms.
Gillard is right to pursue them even if Labor hasn’t worked out yet how to pay for them in a contracting economy and shrinking budget.
But pressure on Government finances to pay for this new agenda isn’t the only problem looming for Gillard.
The PM will not win the confidence of people to deliver any of this stuff, and keep the country from going broke, while the baggage of her failures to fix what she previously promised to still trail behind her like a fiscal and political anchor.
The three core issues Gillard promised to fix, and on which was based her entire leadership, her raison-d’être, her justification to Australia for rolling Kevin Rudd, remain spectacularly un-fixed.
The carbon tax speaks for itself. Gillard and Wayne Swan promised never to introduce one. And in two years time we will simply have a scheme that is almost identical to that proposed by Rudd – and originally argued against by Gillard.
Problem number two, which Gillard said Rudd had also buggered up has been fixed only by being reduced to an economic joke.
Far from the Treasurer’s dream of a great wealth distribution scheme, the mining tax is now under threat of becoming the first tax in the world that instead of raising revenue, actually costs taxpayers money to introduce because of the compensation deal on state royalties.
But by far the greatest failure has been the promise to fix the asylum seeker issue.
Gillard has achieved the almost unachievable on this by turning a “problem” into a political and humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. And like the mining tax, it has also become a budgetary nightmare.
The human numbers tell the story.
Between December 3, 2007 when Rudd took the knife to John Howard’s Pacific Solution – and June 24, 2010 when Labor took the knife to Rudd - 6,220 people arrived on 140 boats crewed by 350 people smugglers.
At the time there were significant push factors involved, with people fleeing war ridden Afghanistan and Tamils escaping civil war in Sri-Lanka. Rudd’s policy, which Gillard claimed credit for, added a pull factor. Of that there is no doubt.
By June 2010 Labor strategists estimated that the boat “crisis” – if it could be called that – had shaved about two percentage points off Labor’s primary vote. Gillard was right to identify it as an issue that needed to be fixed.
But her success can be measured in raw statistics. Under Gillard’s watch, there have been a total of 24,024 people arrive on 391 boats manned by 674 crew.
That is three times the number of boats and four times the number of people arriving over the same period – two and half years – than under Rudd.
To achieve such a disaster requires an exceptional level of policy stupidity. And Immigration Minister Chris Bowen bears little responsibility, considering most of his ideas were knocked back.
There is a reasonable argument that says Rudd created the problem in the first place and that the hung parliament, and the High Court prevented Gillard from implementing a plan that she claimed would have worked – the Malaysian people swap deal.
But it should have become obvious to the Government that when boats started arriving en masse after Gillard’s premature East Timor announcement, and have kept coming ever since, that the third country or offshore processing deterrents were not necessarily going to work again, on their own.
It should never be underestimated just how significant Joe Ludwig’s handling of the Indonesian live cattle export has been to this issue.
Indonesia has always and will continue to be crucial to fixing this problem.
But instead of embracing our neighbour and offering incentives, the Government decided to offend an entire nation with a First World moral insult about how a few dodgy backyard abattoirs treat our animals before they are eaten.
Gillard could never have hoped to come close to solving this issue without some pretty messy political and intelligence work in Indonesia. The live cattle fiasco issue set that possibility back years.
There is course a fourth issue that Gillard promised to fix. It wasn’t one articulated publicly but one made to her caucus. She would fix the Polls.
How has Gillard gone on this score? When Rudd was rolled, the two party-preferred vote for Labor was 52/48, in Rudd’s favour.
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