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Rudd-spin over substance

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 31 July 2009

It is difficult to understand why the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, is experiencing such rough handling at the polls. He should be doing well.

By any yard stick the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has failed to distinguish himself as a leader, the difficulties posed by the recession/depression notwithstanding.

Despite the paucity of verifiable evidence the Prime Minister, with the support of Treasury, has been able to convince a majority of the people and the media that the fiscal stimulus packages or “cash splashes” have saved Australia from the worst of the economic downturn. The claim is contestable but politically clever, at least in the short term. The fact that Access Economics, the Reserve and major banks believe the worst of the recession to be over is cause for caution given their poor track record in predicting the collapse.


Rudd and his advisers are not convinced that what we see are green shoots, they worry that it could be green slime, hence Rudd’s attempt to cover himself with a 6,000 word “essay” defending his recent economic decisions and highlighting possible future difficulties which was run in the Fairfax press on the July 25/26. His message was at odds with the economic forecasters mentioned above.

First year economic students would be aware that Australia has slip-streamed on the strength of the Chinese economy underlining, even before the Stern Hu incident, the extent of our dependence on Chinese growth and political stability.

In the absence of rigorous analysis, advice from Rudd and Treasury should be to keep our fingers crossed. Having shed most of our manufacturing capacity we have few other strings to our bow. There are no policy proposals from either government or opposition to broaden the economic base and reduce our dependency on mineral sales, particularly to China.

Rudd’s policy on water, such as it is, has succumbed to the heat of vested interests and is evaporating. The government is using our money to buy licences for water which does not exist. Rudd does not seem to understand that the only way to manage the dwindling resource, which water represents, on behalf of all stakeholders is for an independent authority to be appointed under the auspices of the Federal Parliament.

Rudd has squirmed on climate change policy and has displayed the paternalism of a missionary towards the Aboriginal population.

The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and there is little justification for Australia being involved. Rudd has not had the courage to take the Australian people into his confidence, instead allowing the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Angus Houston, to hint that Australian troops would be withdrawn in four or five years time when training of the Afghan Army will be complete, a task the USSR attempted but which collapsed on the withdrawal of the Russian Army from Afghanistan.


Rudd’s response to the crisis in the delivery of health care has been to prevaricate and in so doing break an election promise. The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, has hinted that health reform might be contingent on increased taxes. Had Rudd not spent so much on spin dominated cash splashes he would have the money to pay for better health outcomes which would have been a more mature and prudent way of spending tax payer money and stimulating the economy. But wise social spending has not been part of this government’s agenda.

The spending on schools was masterful, designed to be visible and feel good spending for swinging voters with children. Much of the money is ill directed. The program requires more consultation. Occupational Health and Safety requirements relating to building in school grounds will preclude many smaller builders in rural areas from tendering, leaving the way open for big city contractors and thus defeating the purpose of part of the exercise. Greater expenditure on community and affordable housing would see social needs addressed as well as government funding maintaining jobs among smaller contractors and communities.

Other infrastructure spending might be useful if a more integrated approach to projects was taken and if the government was able to articulate what it hoped to achieve in terms of national development. But vision is not part of spin.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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