Tuesday, September 3, 2013


And so it draws to a close.

He's had a good time, as this photo by Andrew Meares shows.

This is todays column from the Canberra Times . . .

It's all nearly over now

To be quoted approvingly by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is indeed a beautiful thing. At least, I assume the tabloid was endorsing my sentiments, because it was highlighting my personal evaluation of some of Kevin Rudd's attributes. Alert readers will be aware that regrettably, these are not all positive.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that this indicates any endorsement (implied or otherwise) for Tony Abbott. On the day after the election I shall head to work, whistling as I go, before pointing out the weirdly, heroically optimistic economic assumptions underlying the coalition’s commitments.

Take one simple example: returning Defence spending to 2 percent of GDP by the end of the decade. The non-partisan, indeed unimpeachable, Australian Strategic Policy Institute insists that achieving this would require a steady, year-on-year increase of more than 5 percent each year. In itself this appears unlikely, although it's not impossible. But couple this initiative with the coalition’s other firm commitments (such as following through with the national disability scheme, boosting health and capping government spending) and the problem is readily apparent.

The only possible way of achieving such objectives is to grow the economy. This isn't unreasonable in itself, because such expansion is natural. Over the first quarter of the year, for example, GDP grew by 0.6 percent and that’s roughly the amount of increase you’d expect the Liberal’s to be factoring in. The highest yearly growth rate in the past 60 years was in the 1970s, when we hit 9 percent. The growth rate implied in the coalition’s forecasts would appear to be greater than 17 percent!

That’s why Labor’s screaming, correctly, that Abbott has no financial clothes. But the party may as well be shouting into the wind, because nobody’s listening. Focus groups show the electorate has made up its mind – Labor is the party that’s economically naked. The government handed it's credibility in this area to the opposition when, despite repeated promises, Wayne Swan failed to return the budget to surplus. Voters aren't mugs. They know Labor inherited a surplus. They also know that the money’s now gone.

The government must be pretty thick if it can't understand it's engaging in battle on the coalition's chosen terrain every time it talks finances. Every time Labor suggests the economic outlook is dire; every time it tries to fight on economic management, it loses. And this explains why Labor has been going backwards every day of the campaign. Every time Rudd points out that Abbott’s figures don’t add up the electorate nods in agreement; before making a mental note that things will be worse under Labor.

I'm quite sure Kevin Rudd believes he's led a good government – but that doesn't mean anyone else does. And this is the really devastating point: on the decisive character issue it seems many people have decided they actually prefer Abbott.

Labor has travelled backwards during this campaign and the reason is summed up in one word: Rudd. It’s become apparent that he hasn’t actually changed at all. Rudd Mark Two is exactly the same person that his own colleagues dismissed three years ago. The only reason he’s come back is because the alternative didn’t work out.

Everyone knows politics is a ruthless game, yet how sad to have been Julia Gillard on Sunday. Did she watch Rudd’s launch on television, I wonder? Or is she knitting away like Madame Defarge at the steps of the guillotine, waiting for a ghastly trumbril to tip its load of severed heads and electoral bodies at her feet on Saturday night?

What makes the speechifying gurgling out from the mouths of Labor’s “hard heads” – people like Anthony Albanese – so revolting is not simply that the disconnect between the words and the reality of their record. This isn’t even a united party any more. The vitriol’s still being held in check until next weekend. The full venom will be withheld until the extent of defeat is revealed. But those in the party who hate Rudd are already beginning to clear their throats. There will be no forgiveness after his loss. If he doesn’t realise this and get out straight away he will be making a massive mistake.

Is there a chance Rudd could be in danger in his own seat of Griffith? It will be worth watching on the night. The demography of the electorate has changed and it no longer represents the working class. But neither does Labor.

The cause of the failure of the past six years resides within the party’s bosom. If your promise is the ability to manage government, people expect you to deliver. Labor hasn’t. Ideology has been tossed overboard in an effort to travel more swiftly. Instead of lightening the load this has left the party tossing around without the necessary ballast to maintain any course. Every new intervention is unhelpful.

The most serious thing a government can do is go to war, yet over the weekend Penny Wong seemed to be desperate to do exactly that. Like a shrill harpy she was upbraiding Abbott who’s sin, it seemed, was urging caution. He had merely, sensibly, pointed out the Syrian conflict is extremely complex.

When I find myself praising Abbott’s moderation, being quoted by the Telegraph, and condemning Labor’s incompetence, the time has probably come for a little lie down. Normal service will be resumed next week.

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