You were right and I was wrong.
Not all of you. But people like Joe Cambria, Kirk Fletcher, Sinclair Davidson, Jim Fryar, Tim Andrews and Michael Sutcliffe were right all along. You warned me about the ALP. You said the days of Hawke/Keating/Walsh were over. I didn’t listen. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
Before the last 2007 election I suggested that Rudd would be a dull but safe Prime Minister who wouldn’t do much, and so would be fairly harmless. And there were people like Tanner and Emerson in the background to keep the party sane. These weren’t particularly high expectations… but they have turned out to be a massive over-estimate of the quality of the Rudd government. He has been a huge disappointment.
In partial defence, I think one reason for Rudd being particularly bad was the global financial crisis (which few people saw coming) and his populist response. Our PM seems like an empty vessel who knows nothing about economics and doesn’t want to know. Perhaps Rudd cares about and understands foreign policy… but I don’t think he cares about or understands economics. And it shows. With little understanding or concern, the only guide to his behaviour was politics, and so we were left with a very dumb stimulus package that totally fails the economics test but passed the populist test. John Howard (or Peter Costello, or Brendan Nelson, or Malcolm Turnbull, or Tony Abbott) would have done a much better job.
But it’s worse than that. With or without the GFC, there is no excuse for the National Broadband Network, or for the proposed internet censorship, or increasing union power and labour market regulation. Denying a special deal for asylum seekers is just weird, and the whole episode was a triumph of politics over policy. As was the pointless 2020 summit. Cass has just drawn my attention to their continued refusal to recognise same-sex unions. Of course, the ETS is horrible policy, and will be the 4th biggest commonwealth tax after income, company and GST. Not to mention other climate regulations and subsidies. And the Rudd government continues to deny private property rights to aboriginals while wasting millions on a non-existent home building project. Then there is the super-nanny state project under the guise of preventative health. Even foreign policy has been a failure, with inconsistent treatment of foreign investment and mixed messages to China. As Sinclair Davidson put it so well… the only real successes from this government has been that they followed through on Howard’s small tax cut and they finally abandoned the idiotic grocery-choice and fuel-choice projects.
I was a vocal critic of the Howard government regarding foreign policy, civil liberties, high tax take, ID card, middle-class welfare, ETS, and lack of liberal reform. I think those criticisms still hold.
However, what I previously failed to stress was that the ALP also supported all of these positions. I didn’t think about it too much at the time, but the policy cowardice showed by the Labor Party while in opposition was an early indicator that they would be a populist and unprincipled government in power. I have absolutely no faith that Rudd is trying to introduce the best policy. The party seems to be run entirely on spin and illusion.