The election – punishing bad behaviour. John Menadue

Sep 8, 2013

One thing the election did was to explode the perceived wisdom that if the economy was doing well, governments are seldom voted out. But the Rudd Government was.

As I have written in earlier blogs.

  • The Australian economy, by almost any measure is one of the best performing and managed in the world.
  • Our material stand of living is continuing to rise at a rate of about 2.5% p.a.
  • Only two days ago, The Herald – Lateral Economics Wellbeing Index showed that our ‘wellbeing’ rose by 7% last financial year. The index measures not only changes in income but also knowhow, environment, health, inequality and job-satisfaction.

But there were other factors at work in the election.

  • The public clearly chose to punish bad political and personal behaviour by the ALP – the ousting of Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard, his undermining of her and then her overthrow. Division is political death.
  • There were obviously concerns about the flakiness of Kevin Rudd.
  • The ALP campaign was ad hoc and chaotic. There was one thought bubble after another. It lacked a consistent theme based on the values and principles that most people thought the ALP stood for – like fairness, decency and equal opportunity.
  • Kevin Rudd and Chris Bowen were no more successful than Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan in persuading the public of the government’s good record on the economy. Chris Bowen now has two consecutive ministerial failures in his c.v. – Immigration and Treasury.
  • The swing against the ALP in NSW showed that the public did not accept that the ALP in that state had been cleaned up. It could only have been achieved by sacking the whole branch.
  • The easy-ride by the media of Tony Abbott’s policies and the bullying campaign by Murdoch seems to have had an effect. The ALP mistakes, and there were many, were highlighted particularly by the Murdoch media and the coalition was given an easy ride.

The coalition waged a very successful political campaign with very little substantial policy. Tony Abbott’s campaign over four years has been attack dog style- brutal, dishonest, but effective.

  • We were told that we had a debt crisis and a budget emergency, but it now turns out that that was all phoney talk. Tony Abbott has pledged instead a reduction in taxes, e.g. carbon tax, and increases in spending, e.g. parental leave. There is a fundamental inconsistency in what Tony Abbott has been telling us for years and in what he now proposes to do.
  • Tony Abbott offers us stability after the apparent chaos of the hung parliament. But in terms of legislation and participation by independents, the last parliament was probably one of the most successful for a long time. In the last few days of the campaign Tony Abbott has told us that if his carbon tax legislation repeal is not passed by the Senate, there will be another election. That doesn’t sound like stability!
  • Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison have quite deliberately whipped up xenophobic, racist and anti-Muslim sentiment.

My concern is that on two key issues, climate change and asylum seekers, the election has taken us backwards.

In his first term, Kevin Rudd said that climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our generation. He was correct. He introduced the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme but it was defeated in the Senate by the coalition and the sanctimonious Greens. Then Kevin Rudd dropped the ball and Tony Abbott has kicked it into touch ever since.

In the hung parliament, a deal with the Greens and other independents was necessary. The carbon tax was the result. That tax has delivered valuable results, despite the pain inflicted on Julia Gillard. In his brief second period as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd announced that a future Labor government would move to a market-based carbon emissions scheme – the same type of scheme that was proposed by John Howard many years ago.

Tony Abbott has opposed any meaningful program to reduce global warming. In an off-guard moment he said that global warming is ‘crap’. He then adopted his absurd ‘Direct Action’ scheme to reduce carbon pollution. This was a smoke-screen to divert attention whilst he relentlessly attacked the carbon tax. Malcolm Turnbull has described Direct Action as nonsense, a fig-leaf to provide cover when you don’t have a credible policy. But now it seems that Tony Abbot is even retreating from Direct Action.  He said that the coalition would be spending ‘no more and no less’ than it has committed to Direct Action, even if it doesn’t achieve the 5% emission reduction target by 2020 as promised. Almost every expert says that direct action will not work and it will be extremely expensive.

Our grandchildren are going to pay a heavy price for our generation’s failure to address the issue of climate change. Month by month the scientific evidence is overwhelming that global warming is occurring and that humans are the cause. The experience of almost all of us, whether in record August temperatures, storms, droughts or cyclones  points in the same direction as the scientific evidence. Climate change is occurring. This is a great moral and environment challenge for which our generation is avoiding its stewardship responsibilities.

We have also now reached the nadir on boat arrivals. Our slippery slide on this issue started in 2001 with Tampa and children-overboard. Since then the Liberals have been unscrupulously but successfully setting traps for the ALP. The Liberal Party in Opposition did not want boats to stop. The more boats that came the better the politics for them. That is why the Liberals sided with the Greens to block the amending of the Migration Act in the Senate which would have enabled implementation of the agreement with Malaysia. Boat arrivals have increased dramatically since that time. In world terms the numbers are not large, but it became a political plaything for the Liberal party.

It won’t be easy and it will take time, but we must find a way to change the conversation on asylum seekers and refugees. It is not just an Australian problem. It is a major and serious global problem. Unfortunately John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison have successfully drawn the ALP into the quagmire they have created.

Lord Acton said that power corrupts. Power also reveals. It revealed a lot about Kevin Rudd. What will it reveal about Tony Abbott?

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