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.