Daily Telegraph - Blog
Posted on Friday, 5 November 2010
In his recent book, John Howard claimed that the Labor Party would comfortably have won the recent election had Kevin Rudd remained prime minister. The government, he said, had torpedoed its principal ground for re-election, namely that it had kept Australia out of recession, by politically assassinating the man who’d led it. It’s a plausible argument but I don’t think that it’s right, notwithstanding my respect for my former leader’s insights.
Julia Gillard’s problem is not that she was a worse candidate for re-election than her predecessor; it’s that she’s turning out to be an even worse prime minister than he was. Boat people aren’t trying to get to Indonesia or even to Singapore. They’re desperate to get to Australia. That’s why the prime minister’s attempt this week to have other countries solve our problem was so lame. Only a prime minister who was out of her depth would ask other countries to fix a problem that the Australian government had created for itself and then pretend that a polite hearing was actually a step towards a regional agreement. Why do we need a regional agreement on a processing centre on East Timor when Australia could so easily agree with Nauru to put one there?
Julia Gillard is usually personable in a way that her predecessor mostly wasn’t and often seems down-to-earth in a way that her predecessor mostly didn’t but that’s not stopped the perception growing that she’s actually a worse prime minister. Whether it was the Medicare Gold policy that she took to the 2004 election as shadow health minister; the original ACTU-wish-list Fair Work policy that she proposed as shadow workplace relations minister before the 2007 election; or the East Timor processing centre that the East Timorese had never heard of, the climate change people’s convention in lieu of the parliament, and reiterating state Labor’s Epping to Parramatta railway serial broken promise during the recent election campaign, the prime minister lacks judgment. Kevin Rudd was hopeless at running the country but at least he didn’t always sound like the alternative opposition leader ceaselessly sniping at opponents.
There’s the carbon tax that was definitely off-the-table before the election that’s on-the-table now. There’s the onshore detention centres that definitely weren’t happening before the election but definitely are happening now. There’s the mining tax that was fixed before the election but that’s unraveling now. There’s the Murray-Darling water plan that was going to be adopted in its entirety sight-unseen before the election but, now that it’s been seen, isn’t going to happen anytime soon and is all the work of independent bureaucrats. This is a prime minister and a government that has the Midas touch-in-reverse. During the election, we were told about fake Julia and real Julia. Now it seems that there were fake meetings of the gang of four and real ones.
None of this means that there’s likely to be a new election anytime soon. The prime minister won’t call one while the government is in so much trouble and the two independents who created the government are hardly likely to surrender their power within three years. The opposition’s job is not to wait for a bad government that’s getting worse finally to implode. Still less is it to bicker about the election result and the spoils of defeat. It’s to be an even more effective opposition this term than last term and thereby to dispel any voter doubts that we are again ready for government.
Last week, the Coalition pledged itself to a fairer welfare system and to lower, simpler and fairer taxes. The Coalition is committed to a more competitive and responsive banking system. This week, Coalition MPs have been campaigning for people to be taken seriously before, not after, government takes decisions that will impact on their lives: such as putting an asylum seeker detention centre in their town or cutting water allocations to their district. It’s an opposition that’s holding the government to account and methodically developing the policy that makes us a credible alternative government. One of the key differences between the Coalition and the Labor Party is that we want Australia to be a better place but they just want to stay in power.
Over the next couple of years, there’ll be announcement after announcement but almost nothing will change for the better because the government is completely torn between political operators and people who wish they were in the Greens. The opposition has to point out all the occasions when the Labor Party, in one of its own senior member’s words, is being “long on cunning but short on courage” while being ready to form a better, more principled government.
5 November 2010