Australia's political class is in a buzz following weekend revelations that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was busy beavering away on a major essay for The Monthly on the current economic crisis during his summer holiday. The essay is to be published in the next edition of the journal of record for the intellectual and cultural avant-garde. The weekend reports provide us with a view of the underlying argument, the bit that matters, if not the essay itself.
It has been reported that Rudd blames neoliberalism for the crisis and that he will assert that the Liberal Party is the natural home of neoliberal doctrine. Furthermore, the Rudd essay reportedly calls for a new philosophical framework to underpin government policies post the financial crash. This framework cannot be developed by the Liberal Party given its strong commitment to free market fundamentalism, Rudd will reportedly argue.
The best thing that we might state about this thesis is that, unlike with Julie Bishop's similar attempt at philosophical reflection, the Rudd essay won't give off the appearance of plagiarism.
The worst we can say is that Kevin Rudd is displaying a level of breathtaking cynicism the likes of which Australian political life has not seen for many a year. The only thing that comes close is the way that the Liberal Party used concerns about terrorism and boat people in 2001 to craft a governing narrative built around the politics of "strong on national security".
Michelle Grattan, writing in The Age, cites Rudd as stating "the time has come, off the back of the current crisis, to proclaim that the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed, that the emperor has no clothes. Neo-liberalism, and the free market fundamentalism it has produced, has been revealed as little more than personal greed dressed up as an economic philosophy."
Rudd furthermore reportedly states that the Liberal Party is the "home" of neoliberalism in Australia and that thereby only the Labor Party is able to fashion a credible alternative to neoliberalism for social democrats have "a consistent position on the central role of the state - in contrast to neo-liberals, who now find themselves tied in ideological knots".
The key task now for social democrats is to "recast the role of the state and its associated political economy of social democracy as a comprehensive philosophical framework for the future".
It is true to say that the neoliberal economic reforms of the past 30 years have dominated Australian social, political and economic life. But what Rudd seemingly fails to seriously elaborate upon is that it was the ALP, under Hawke and Keating, that was largely responsible for ushering in the neoliberal economic reforms that he now decries.
The former senior Treasury official, now senior banker, David Morgan rather melodramatically told us that the free market Treasury had more of its agenda implemented under Hawke and Keating "than all of the post-war governments combined; easy". (Labor in Power ABC TV series). Rudd's Minister for Finance has stated that "the Rudd Government is committed to upholding the tradition of reform established in the Hawke-Keating era" for "the Australian economy desperately needs further reform".
Immediately after the reports of the Rudd essay emerged the Minister for Resources, Martin Ferguson, warned the workers of Australia at a union conference "not to use the global financial crisis as an excuse to abandon the quest for productivity gains or seek protection from competition".
It is only natural that Ferguson should say this for Tanner has revealed that "our default position will be to liberalise, not restrict". Both Tanner and Ferguson are from the "socialist left" of the ALP, as is comrade Greg Combet who added another property to his multi-million dollar portfolio according to weekend reports (Combet's beach pads, Sunday Herald-Sun, February 1 2009).
We might recall that it was not so long ago that everybody was singing odes to joy about the wonders of our miracle economy. These wonders, we were told, could be attributed to the neoliberal economic reforms of the past 30 years no less.
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