Back from the brink of disaster. John Menadue

Jun 27, 2013


Many people and particularly women will be disappointed that our first female Prime Minister has been forced out. She has been most unfairly treated by the media. Things have been said about her by Tony Abbott and others that would not be said about a male Prime Minister.

But my view is that a change to Kevin Rudd was desirable for several reasons.

  • Under Julia Gillard’s leadership the electoral prospects for the ALP were catastrophic. Tony Abbott’s majority could have been so large that it would take two and possibly three terms to turn it around.
  • The Australian public had stopped listening to Julia Gillard. Even excellent policy was not getting a hearing.
  • There will now be a real choice at the next election that will reassure many people who are genuinely concerned about the prospects of Tony Abbott as our next Prime Minister.
  • Kevin Rudd will be a much more effective opponent of Tony Abbott.

I said in a blog recently that the ALP was increasingly looking like a suicide cult rather than the most successful political party in Australia’s history. The ALP has turned back from the brink. The ALP caucus has behaved rationally in forcing a change. The 11th hour changes will at least minimize the government’s losses at the next election.

Kevin Rudd has certainly been a destabilizing influence since he was deposed three years ago by Julia Gillard and others. But it was a litany of her own political mistakes that in the end brought Julia Gillard down.

  • Getting rid of an elected Prime Minister in 2010 was certainly going to cost Julia Gillard a lot in public trust.
  • It was exaggerated, but she broke a promise given explicitly on the carbon tax, although she was not the first Prime Minister to break a promise. We all remember John Howard’s distinction between core and non-core promises. The media hammered her unmercifully over this issue.
  • Together with Wayne Swan she locked the government into an unnecessary commitment to a budget surplus this financial year.
  • She mishandled the announcement of the date of an election and there was confusion over ministerial resignations.
  • But the biggest political mistake in my view was her backing away from the reform of the ramshackle ALP organisational structure. She failed this test of leadership. The reform of the party machine still remains unfinished work.

Her policy achievements have been considerable.

  • Despite the rage and angst of Tony Abbott, the “hung parliament” has been successful in passing key legislation and giving a voice to Independents and backbenchers. Tony Abbott has been the key figure in attempting to wreck the parliament. I wrote about this in my blog of June 2. In the hung parliament she proved herself a very good negotiator with the Independents.  The Independents were not impressed by Tony Abbott.
  • We have had six years of uninterrupted economic growth, even through the global financial crisis. Partly by good luck and partly by good management, we have one of the best performing economies in the world.
  • Economic growth is strong and inflation and unemployment are low.
  • Net government debt is lower at 12% of GDP than almost any other country. In Japan it is 134%, US 88%, France 84%, UK 83% and NZ 26%.
  • We are building a first class communication system in the NBN.
  • Superannuation is being progressively extended.
  • The National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski Education Reforms will be historic achievements of the Gillard Government.

The Gillard Government’s problems were overwhelmingly political and of its own making.

We will have to wait a few days to see what Kevin Rudd does on some key policy issues, particularly on carbon pollution and asylum seekers.

Hopefully on the latter, he can give us the leadership to move away from fear and xenophobia. It will not be easy with Tony Abbott intent on inciting fear and exaggerating the problem. But I believe Australians will respond to strong moral leadership.

The key to improved policies for asylum seekers is first to take action in source countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan to provide alternatives for people facing persecution so they will not have to take dangerous voyages by boat. The second is action with Indonesia and Malaysia, in full and active cooperation with UNHCR, to provide a regional framework for the holding and processing of asylum seekers.

But whatever we do, desperate people will not necessarily play by our rules. The desperate asylum seekers in Syria for example won’t wait for government policies. They will act to save the lives of themselves and their families.

The number of refugees in the world is increasing significantly. We must be realistic about that and accept greater responsibility. We cannot retreat into our shell.

The Gillard Government ran for cover on this issue. Hopefully the Rudd Government will give us humanitarian leadership, even if tinged by some political pragmatism.

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