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The first year

By Leon Bertrand - posted Wednesday, 26 November 2008

While a few of its policies have been good, the anniversary of the Rudd Government’s election is an opportunity to reflect on its generally poor start to office.

My first criticism of the Rudd Government is that while the government has made numerous policy announcements during its first year of office, the number of ideas and plans which have been followed through are few. Of course some policies, such as its fibre to the node network and the “education revolution” are clearly long-term. However, even on these policies there has been a conspicuous lack of progress.

The Labor Party in Opposition portrayed WorkChoices as a policy that was harming many workers every day and even though IR and Workchoices were the most important issues according to Labor, it took an entire 12 months to implement their policy. Whatever your personal views are on industrial relations, the Rudd Government has been far from impressive in its inaction on this issue in its first year of office.


Similarly, the 2020 Summit held earlier this year produced many ideas that the Rudd Government said it would carefully consider. But has the Rudd Government passed into law or otherwise implemented any of the ideas from the Summit? Has it even announced that it intends to put into action any of the ideas? Once again, there was much publicity but little or no follow-through.

The same applies to many of Kevin Rudd’s other announcements. Remember when he promised to establish a nuclear disarmament commission? Or a new Asian/Australasian body to complement ASEAN? Or the republic? Or amendments to the Australian Constitution to recognise Australia’s first peoples? There seem to be many grandiose announcements which are not followed up with action.

Moving on to the bad policies, there are quite a few to mention.

Abolishing AWAs was not good economic policy, even though it was an election promise.

Whatever your views on climate change, signing Kyoto was only going to have the effect of exporting carbon emissions to other countries.

Doubling the first home owner’s grant, and the introduction of interest-free savings accounts for home buyers, promise to only increase house prices, so the biggest beneficiaries will be property sellers.


Even more regressive are plans to implement a paid maternity leave scheme, as I have explained in a previous article.

Meanwhile, reducing the income level at which the Medicare surcharge applies was always going to put more pressure on the already struggling public health system, as well as increase the health premiums of those who struggle to afford private health insurance such as the elderly.

FuelWatch and GROCERYchoice have proved to be ineffective.

And then there is Labor’s plan to censor the internet. The government claims it will protect children, but clearly the only real effect will be to slow Internet download speeds.

But perhaps the most disappointing decision, as most economists will agree, is the plan to pour billions of dollars into propping up the car industry. The Rudd Government’s policy does not compare favourably to the records of the Hawke and Howard governments. While Hawke and Howard reduced levels of protection, the Rudd Government is heavily increasing industry assistance and leaving overall levels of protection at roughly the same level.

Kevin Rudd has implemented a plethora of reviews, enquiries and commissions to deal with rising prices and other perceived problems aimed at making his government look good. Policies such as FuelWatch and GROCERYchoice have involved little more than setting up websites to monitor prices.

On the current worldwide economic crisis, Rudd has “declared war” on unemployment, met with business leaders for a “war cabinet” and spun his protectionist policies as helping Australia through the current economic downturn. Meanwhile, the bank deposit guarantee was a cure which was worse than the disease it purported to fix. Kevin Rudd and his government are far more concerned with spin than substance.

This leads to further unflattering comparisons with the Hawke and Howard governments. In its first year, the Hawke government produced the first accord, and also floated the Australian dollar, in what many commentators have described as the most important microeconomic reform in Australia over the past 30 years. This decision may not have been popular, but the Hawke government was more concerned about the national interest than short-term populism.

Similarly, when the Howard government was elected to office it introduced a wave of industrial relations reforms, courageously introduced gun controls and legislated to privatise one-third of Telstra as soon as it found a way of passing it through the Senate.

By contrast, when Kevin Rudd lists his achievements to date, they will be a lot less substantial. Rudd will be able to list saying “sorry”, signing Kyoto, GROCERYchoice and his failed attempt to introduce FuelWatch.

Another critique of the Rudd Government arises from the fatal contradictions in its policies, which make a mockery of its agenda:

  • The government has consistently talked about the need to have high productivity, yet has abolished the creation of new AWA’s, supported protectionist policies and is set to introduce an emissions trading scheme.
  • While the government is intent on subsidising the car industry, it has increased taxation on luxury cars.
  • The government has talked about the need for and benefits of free trade, yet invested billions on protecting the car industry.
  • While Kevin Rudd promised to tackle inflation (another thing he declared war on) and pledged to help lower prices, an emissions trading scheme will inevitably increase the cost of many items.
  • Kevin Rudd promised to tackle housing affordability and has announced record increases in migration.
  • The government wants to spend billions on speeding up the Internet but also wants to introduce an Internet filter to slow it down.
  • While Kevin Rudd always talks about making the “tough decisions” the simple fact is that his government is still yet to make one. The toughest one yet was to means-test the baby bonus by denying access to 2 per cent of parents. Which is not so tough considering a majority of Australians are in favour of means-testing the bonus.

While there’s always some degree of contradiction in any government set of policies, the Rudd Government’s are too numerous, and have the effect of making them a motley collection of priorities, many canceling each other out.

The polls show that the Rudd Government has been good at exploiting public misunderstandings for its own political benefit. The record shows that in terms of policy, it has so far made a lacklustre start.

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About the Author

Leon Bertrand is a Brisbane blogger and lawyer.

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