Paul Sheehan and his lazy alphabet soup

When I was in school, the laziest, dumbest sort of poem we were ever asked to write was an acrostic poem – a poem in which each line starts with a new letter. Paul Sheehan must not have felt like writing about anything in any detail for his SMH column today, because he decided to unearth the trusty acrostic and scribble an errant line or two about the Rudd Government’s performance for each letter of the alphabet. There are no pretensions of balance or fairness detectable in the piece – it is , to be clear, nothing but a one-eyed hatchet job, and an amateurish one at that.

As such, I think it only fair to offer a point or two in reply to Sheehan’s 26 extremely brief points:

Asylum Seekers
According to Sheehan:

Unless the government can show otherwise, it appears that about 98 per cent of asylum-seekers are getting Australian residency.

There’s nothing like a bit of “innocent until proven guilty” to get the ball rolling. No attempt is being made to provide an accurate figure or to describe how the author has arrived at the 98% figure. Sheehan also neglects to mention the significant push factors at play for the asylum seeker issue during the last couple of years – in particular – the Sri Lankan civil war, and an increase in Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Beijing

Does anybody seriously believe that Australia’s relationship with China has “deteriorated badly”? Rudd has been one of the few foreign leaders to have the fortitude to express some home truths to China – for this he should be given kudos, not brickbats. Strong relationships call for straight talking – not the acquiescent hand-wringing of the Downer years.

Computers in schools

290,000 computers funded, 180,000 computers delivered, in an ongoing program. Yes, there have been logistical problems, but in a program of this magnitude, logistical problems happen.

Debt and deficit

Sheehan:

It took the previous government 10 years to dismantle the $96 billion debt mountain that it inherited. It took Rudd one year to build it back up again.

Rudd… and a global financial crisis.

The Rudd Government would have been heading into deficit courtesy of the GFC regardless of whether or not it embarked on its economic stimulus program, which saved thousands of jobs, put money in the pockets of millions of people across the country when they most needed it, and kept the budget in surplus. It is undeniable that the measures undertaken by the government played a central role in ensuring that Australia is amongst the best performing economies in the world and technically stayed out of recession.

ETS

56% of people still support the Rudd Government’s ETS – and I sincerely doubt that any polls conducted have concluded that 80% of people both don’t understand and don’t trust the scheme. A slogan on the t-shirt of someone with an obvious vested interest in not reducing carbon emissions does not a coherent argument make.

Fuelwatch

Was blocked by the Senate – and hardly a “big” promise in any case.

Grocerywatcb

Not all of the major retailers came to the party for the government in committing to provide accurate and timely information of grocery prices, and the scheme was dumped in June 2009. This was an unfortunate result, but the public outlay was relatively small.

Hospitals

Ongoing – negotiations with Australia’s state and territory governments and the possible reform of the Constitution is hardly something that can be done overnight. I think we’ll see the Rudd Government put health at the forefront of its re-election campaign, with pressure now mounting for some action.

India Disaster

Sheehan does not bother to explain what he is talking about here. Perhaps he is suggesting that Kevin Rudd was somehow responsible for the Mumbai bombings?

Juvenile justice

It is a nonsense to argue that the plight of young Aborigines is worse than ever – this is hyperbole on a grand scale. The Rudd Government has, thus far, maintained the “intervention” policies of the previous government to a significant extent. The current situation is not a good situation by any means, but it is in no way, shape or form, as catastrophic as Sheehan implies. Here’s hoping that the Rudd Government lifts their game in this very sensitive and challenging portfolio.

Kaiser

In defence of the appointment; the Rudd Government is actually trying to move things along with the broadband network (rather than wait several months while the job is formally advertised, candidates interviewed, and so on) and Mike Kaiser certainly has the pedigree for the job. It was, however, a somewhat sloppy and silly piece of work, and NBN Co executive Mike Quigley should probably have known better.

This was Quigley’s mistake – not Conroy’s or Rudd’s.

League tables

The publication of comparative school information was arguably one of the bravest steps undertaken by a Labor Minister for Education in decades. The indicators are not bulletproof, but the publication was still a step in the right direction, and one that has been broadly welcomed by parents across the country. Parents deserve the facts. The world has not ended for principals, school teachers or anybody else.

Sheehan’s labelling of the scheme as “centralised” is a clear misrepresentation.

Migration

Sheehan takes the novel approach of attacking Australia’s permanent migration figures in recent years by arguing that this is increasing Australia’s carbon footprint. It’s interesting – because he doesn’t seem to give a flip for Australia’s carbon footprint when it comes to, say, environment policy. A strange dog whistle if ever I heard one.

National broadband network

$17 million, when all is said and done in the world of government policy, is not a lot of money. The tender process fell down and that is unfortunate, but the rollout of the network is now underway in both Tasmania and mainland Australia.

Opposition theft

He must have really struggled with “O”. I don’t think that anybody really believes that the Rudd Government’s stimulus package is the sole reason why Australia pulled through the financial crisis so well. Incidentally – it’s not as if the Howard Government didn’t claim all the credit it possibly could for the state of the economy during its decade in power – despite engaging in a negligible amount of investment or meaningful reform.

Power (and Roof insulation)

There have been some unfortunate consequences of the Rudd Government’s solar power and home insulation schemes, but to a large extent, these problems stem from inadequacies within the existing legislation regulating the relevant industries, and questionable or immoral behavior by opportunistic business operators. Its simply disingenuous to imply that these problems can all be laid at the feet of the government. Should Peter Garrett go? From where I am sitting, its 50-50.

Question time

Question Time has been abused by both sides of parliament for as long as anyone can remember. The Rudd Government’s performance in this area is disappointing, particularly given its rhetoric around cleaning up behaviour in parliament prior to the 2007 election, but it is not demonstratively worse than recent previous governments.

School spending

The Building the Education Revolution scheme is improving the amenities of schools across the country, keeping thousands of people in work. There are probably a few good arguments one could raise regarding just how this money could be better spent in the education sector. Sheehan doesn’t volunteer any.

Tax increases

From my recollection, the Rudd Government is committed to not increasing the level of taxation as a proportion of GDP – which means that any new spending measures will need to be funded by associated budget cuts in other areas. Until the government actually breaks that promise – its nothing but hearsay and slander to suggest that the forthcoming Budget is going to be chockers with new taxes.

Union Power

Nonsense. As many union members will tell you, the Rudd Government has been a bit on the conservative side in their destruction of WorkChoices. A substantive proportion of the provisions of the Howard Government’s industrial relations scheme remain, with some softening around the edges. Many concessions have been made to business and industry by the government. The unions do not pull the strings in Labor Governments anymore.

Vanity

Lazy. Must have had too many words eh? Maybe you should have done a column per letter Sheehan – your arguments might then have been just a little more coherent and less simplistic to boot.

X Y Z

Cute. But lazy. It is probably worth remembering that these are of course the same said generations who benefitted from the government’s stimulus payments.