Federal Labor, meet rock and hard place

Recent developments in Victoria and the ongoing economic turmoil being experienced worldwide have placed Labor in a difficult position with respect to its pre-election policy program. On the one hand, the Prime Minister, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner have felt compelled to act and act in a significant way by pushing Australia into public debt for the first time in some years with their $42 billion stimulus package. On the other hand, the Rudd Government was swept to office in November 2007 with one of the more ambitious (and expensive) programs of policy reform pushed out into the electorate in recent elections. Whether we are talking about Federal Labor’s so-called “education revolution”, the proposed national broadband network, or the government’s mooted overhaul of federal-state relations in health policy, we are talking about reforms that if correctly implemented, should result in a noticeable improvement in the affairs of the nation.

Considering the profound impact of recent developments, we might well ask whether the Rudd Government, its budget outlook now bleak, is seriously still in a position to deliver on all (or… any?) of its really big promises? The government’s emissions trading plan has, of last week, been sent off to another review by the government’s Economics Committee. The national broadband network, dogged by delays and controversies over wrangling with Telstra, could perhaps best be described as resident in limbo. Today the interim report of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission threw up a rather radical proposal for a new public dental scheme, funded by a substantive increase to the Medicare levy. Proposals like this might have got a guernsey by a bold government in a period of strong economic growth, but realistically what chance do they have of getting up when the government’s budget is so under the pump and the future uncertain?

It would seem almost certain that the Rudd Government is going to be heading into the 2010 election with a handful of its most visible 2007 election policies in rather troubled train or else abandoned altogether. While Federal Labor can hardly be blamed for the financial crisis furrowing the brows of leaders all over the planet, if they do not deliver on their promises in the lead-up to the next poll (or else have a bloody cogent explanation!), one could hardly blame some voters for calling them out and giving the Coalition their vote.

3 thoughts on “Federal Labor, meet rock and hard place

  1. “One thing at a time and that done well is a very good rule as many can tell.”

    If Rudd focused his resources on any one of these things and stopped spreading himself so thin, he’d could achieve many of these ‘promises’. He could for instance, turn the education revolution into his own personal all-consuming hobby and delegate to his ministers and let them get on with the areas of their portfolio. Possibly a lot of the problem is that Gillard is patently overloaded with portfolios, and while the idea might have been for Rudd to lend a hand, it translates into neither of them actually being clear about what is the other’s areas. Classic bureaucratic entanglement.

    The stimulus package has been passed, the new dental healthcare plan is in the air, but if he wastes too much time and energy jousting with the naysayers and arguing mindlessly in Question Time, (for the benefit of precisely no one,) he’ll simply run out of puff and you’re right, it’ll be election time and nothing will have happened.

    Leadership means making sure that things happen and overseeing them. Bona fide leaders do not allow themselves to get bogged down in bureaucratic details–which unfortunately I suspect Rudd cannot help but doing–hiding in the data.

  2. Some good points there I think Caroline. Fingers crossed that Rudd and his leadership team will refocus as they come to realise that the next election is getting ever closer and they need to get some solid achievements on the board.

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