Labor 9 out of 10 for governing? Let’s grade them.
Tanya Plibersek, you must at least admire her loyalty and subservience to her Labor party that she rated Labor’s governing over the 6 years of its duration as “9 out of 10”. First was election night on 7 September after the pall of a humiliating defeat had set, and then on ABC’s Q&A program the following Monday as she audaciously tried t o defend her pride in the sheer face of reality. She blamed “disunity” as the cause for defeat, even though the leadership betrayals actually saw huge poll rises and approval for the new leaders, enough to recover for the 2010 election and enough to be initially in contention for 2013. It was the return to “governing” that saw the ratings drop.
In the interest of fairness, let’s actually grade the past Labor government on 10 key policies and aspects of governing, awarding a mark for each “success” and totalling them at the end.
1) Carbon Tax
First, this was a monumental lie by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard after prior PM Kevin Rudd backed away from his “greatest moral challenge of our time” speech. Second, it saw an unnecessary alliance with the Greens so Gillard could lie that “circumstances changed” when she was just taking advantage of a situation. The Greens and independents would never put Tony Abbott in government. Third, the tax itself, as distinct to the “floating price” of an ETS that would take over in 2015, was more about a set amount of revenue to fund election bribes that would be used to defend the tax. Fourth, it made no measurable impact on emissions, with any revenue leftover from the expansive “compensation” used to buy dodgy “carbon credits” from overseas. Fifth, even if the revenue directly went into reducing emissions, without a world agreement, it was only an act in image politics, not outcome politics, given Australia’s tiny 1.2% footprint on world emissions. Sixth, a “Climate Commission” was set up at huge expense, headed by the dubious, self-professed “independent and accurate” Tim Flannery, for the sole purpose to lie and spout propaganda in support of the tax, despite the established government stance that the “science is settled”.
2) Mining Tax
Great idea to tax the super profits of huge mining companies in the boom times. Pity Gillard caved in so much to the miners that the tax raised almost nothing. Worse, Gillard used the expected revenue to fund other bribes, not to offset it against the deficit or saved for leaner times. Apparently, this was her “fix” from Kevin Rudd’s weakness on his initial and worthwhile version of the mining tax.
3) Illegal Boat Arrivals
50,000 arrivals since the laws relaxed of the John Howard era; 30,000 almost in just the past 12 months. Worse, over 1000 died at sea (that we know about) trying to arrive. Even worse, so many illegal arrivals took the places of genuine refugees. How Australia as a supposed compassionate nation can favour wealthy so-called “asylum seekers” using people smugglers at the expense of declared refugees waiting in camps, some waiting over multiple generations, as humane, is a disgrace. Again, it’s more about image politics. We see these destitute people on wonky boats and we must help. Who cares about their real status. Whereas in camps, that’s an invisible arrival by plane, so we miss out being pro-active in helping people. This is the typical guilt complex of wealthy elitists, feeling they need to act to validate their privileged lives. So much so that it doesn’t seem to matter the numbers that die, it’s brushed off as “tragedies happen” by the likes of the Greens Sarah Hanson-Young. As long as we see a boat and can expedite them through by slamming those wanting a legal approach as racists, we are happy. Arrive by plane and try stay illegally, we’ll hunt you down and deport you. Forget about the genuine refugees missing out. Labor couldn’t rely on their Greens mates either. Their policy was to set up camp in Indonesia and swiftly ferry anyone to Australia that shows up and calls themselves an asylum seeker. If by remote chance the Greens ferry service won’t take them, go illegally and still get in. When Gillard actually tried a compassionate model of swapping illegal arrivals with genuine refugees waiting in Malaysia, she went so extreme that she was blocked by the High Court. Her program should have been far more widespread, permanent, and a 1-for-1 swap. That sends a message that Australia favours genuine and long-waiting refugees over those rich enough to fly to Indonesia and pay a smuggler to circumvent the process.
4) National Broadband Network
In 30 or 50 years time, this massive infrastructure build will be seen as integral and a prescient decision. A pity it’s been wrecked by cost blowouts, inept planning, slow building and slow take-up. Kevin Rudd went to the 2007 election with this policy and six years later it’s practically nowhere. Because of this slow progress, the Liberals are in the position to complete it as they see fit, most likely not in the form as Labor envisaged.
5) NDIS Disability Scheme
This was only announced in Gillard’s final days, seemingly to wedge the opposition on the issue. They tactically out-witted her by readily approved the policy, including Gillard’s broken promise of not raising the Medicare Levy to fund it. Because it’s so late a policy and not due for full implementation by 2019, it will be future governments to implement it, fund it, tweak it and even totally re-work it, and take the legacy for it. It should have been the first policy Gillard implemented.
Similar to Disability, except the “Gonksi Review” was undertaken very early in Gillard’s second term, to be ultimately a policy of image to be used to wedge the Liberals – as confirmed by Gillard’s communications director John McTernan – during the election. As soon as the election approached, the Liberals approved the funding model over the initial years to again nullify Labor’s political posturing. Gillard spent too long talking about “Gonski” rather than acting on it. Even then, the action, mostly just increased funding for the states, was riven by squabbling and political jousting, and cutting of university funds to fund other elements that the review never even supported. Tangibly, nothing here.
7) Media Control
First was the internet filter that was quickly smacked down. Then Communications Minister Steve Conroy made attempts to muzzle newspapers by stricter ownership rule. This fell apart too, ending in debacle as it became yet another symbol of government ineptitude and totalitarian control when Conroy threatened parliament to pass it before a deadline otherwise he’d withdraw it. With Labor constantly slamming the Murdoch press, that only made them more popular. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in particular gleefully ramped up the sensationalist headlines and imagery of a government, so frustrated by the reporting of its incompetence that it deemed as unfair criticism and an agenda, now trying to suppress free speech. On facts, Murdoch does not control 70% of the press, he controls 30% of it. It’s that 70% of the population prefers to read it over Labor’s pet media branches of the ABC and Fairfax
Massive deficits, blown budgets, tightening unemployment and under-employment, and a continuing flat and spend-thrift economy, and an especially flat retail, all in spite of a massive resources boom. It doesn’t mean one iota that the rest of the world would still envy Australia’s position as Labor kept boasting. Providing a sound economic environment is the basic requirement for any government, along with essential services, welfare safety net and defence. Since Labor only barely managed a reasonable economy with the surplus left by the previous government and all-time high revenues, and that tacitly admitting some concern by blaming the GFC that Australia sailed through years ago, it can only mean one thing…
Key broken promises undermined the government more than anything. Labor died by its own words, either by direct betrayal or failing to meet their own, often minor, standards. After the “no carbon tax” promise there was the guarantee of a surplus for financial year 2013, with treasurer Wayne Swan boasting during a parliamentary budget speech, May 2012, of the “surplus years are here”. The tiny surplus, mostly contrived by fiddling figures and increasing the previous year’s deficit, was quickly wiped when Labor’s revenues took a “massive hit”. Except these budgeted revenues were at the highest estimate, continuing the incompetence of the government to manage the bare basics that it should. Then there was the broken promise to Peter Wilkie on Poker Machines reform, the recruitment of the slimy and sleazy Peter Slipper to shore-up the government’s numbers, the Australia Day race riot where a Labor hack falsely claimed Tony Abbott wanted the Tent Embassy removed, plus all the other divisive tactics like false claims of misogyny both against Abbott and, by Gillard’s final days, against practically any man, with her preposterous “men in blue ties” speech. Did she not realise that alienating half the population automatically puts her in the minority when disenchanted women are added to the mix? Finally, the leadership spills that Labor themselves blame for their woes. While polls showed the new leaders were well approved, it set the narrative of an unstable and dysfunctional government that other actions would fatally confirm.
10) Foreign Affairs
Australia stayed out of foreign troubles in Libya and Syria. Gillard proved quite chummy with Obama and showed him how to kick an Australia Rules football. She cried giving a speech to the US congress about the strong alliance between Australia and the USA. Being from the left side of politics, that would not have offended too many. Most prominently, Australia gained a seat on the United Nations Security Council. That could be called an achievement.
There you have it. Ten points of governing, 9 FAILs. Sorry Tanya, you get a 1/10, or an EPIC FAIL. With that one pass mark, go take it to the UN Security Council, tell them how well Australia did, because no one in this country believes you, and neither does the scoreboard.