Friday, May 14, 2010

Misery, Distress & Disappointment

Increasingly in places like the UK and Australia it seems that the voters are prepared to give the government of the day a fair shot at it. In NSW a Labour government has been in power for 13 years. Ditto in the UK where the conservatives have just come to power. John Howard and the Liberals (conservatives for those overseas) were in power here for 11 years.
That means that over a period of time the country (or state) moves towards the direction of the party in power. I mean that in an institutional sense. Appointments of judges tend to reflect the political persuasion of the day, laws and policies reflect the ideology of the mob in power.
When governments change we, the voters, expect that the new mob we elect will stamp their mark on the country. In so doing the pendulum, which may have swung too far one way, now gets the opportunity to swing back the other way.
What it also means is that governments can expect voters to support them as they make those changes. Voters in Australia do not vote a party in. Rather they decide they've had a gut full of the mob in power and, if there is a half reasonable alternative, they throw them out.
That brings us to the current mob. They came in - on one of those moments of change - with a sizeable majority. That's normal and expectable. But that's where the fun ended. They've proved, in their first term to be a massively ineffectual disappointment.
Here's why:
  1. Instead of carving a path, and delivering on it, they've inherited that Howard era sin: they've sniffed the wind at every step and sought to follow a path that they think will displease the minimum number of people. In so doing they've made no meaningful change to the way the country runs and displeased the majority.
  2. They have demonstrated an utter incapacity to deliver on anything. Computers in schools? Emissions trading and climate change legislation? The NT "intervention"? The insulation scheme? Meaningful and humane changes to asylum seeker policy? NAPLAN - a shambles? Health reform - nothing to show except words? All trumpeted loudly and all not delivered on.
  3. A massive belief in their capacity to "spin" anything. To the point that the Prime Minister speaks only gobbledegook. The only person who comes close to speaking in a straightforward manner and giving the news, good or bad, is Lindsay Tanner. By the way Lindsay, don't think that's a compliment - it's not, you're simply better than your colleagues.
  4. An arrogant failure to understand the political imperatives of an unfriendly senate. If you want to implement things then you'd better do your deals before you go mouthing off in public and alienating the people you need to pass your legislation.
What it amounts to is a massive and unacceptable failure. We get a Labor government less than twice a generation. My son was born during the Hawke/Keating years and became a voter in the Howard years.
What right do you, Kevin Rudd, have to fail your country in such spectacularly miserable form? Where is the tough team of reformers that you need in order to make real change? Where is the self discipline and humility that delivers real leadership?
Just for completeness: I acknowledge that Australia has weathered the "GFC" remarkably well. I don't give you much credit however. I think the credit goes to Ken Henry and Glenn Stevens (although Glenn's too quick on shifting rates) and our mineral resources.
Just as a bit of a score card. Here are the nearly-competents:
  • Lindsay Tanner - at least he seems to nearly speak his mind and he has got one;
  • Greg Combet - It's a pity he's relegated to cleaning up other peoples' messes;
  • John Faulkner - It's a credit to John, strangely, that the Defence portfolio has gone silent since his arrival. Things must be working;
  • Stephen Smith - dull as ditchwater, but maybe that's a good thing in a foreign minister. At least he appears to be a safe pair of hands;
Here are the failures - at least the most obvious ones:
  • Kevin Rudd - Start delivering, that's all, stop spinning, stop being arrogant, and start delivering;
  • Nicola Roxon - A term as health minister and we've seen what change precisely? What is the benefit of your latest excursion into health funding exactly? If you can't articulate it then why are you bothering?
  • Jenny Macklin - You're a nice person, but the aboriginal population need more than a nice person. Deliver some real change in those communities Jenny and stop trying to take everything over;
  • Wayne Swan - The Henry review, the opportunity of a lifetime, and the response from you is a great big fail. As for the mining super-tax, who haven't you alienated?
  • Julia Gillard - you have delivered what Julia? What precisely? And attended by what ructions and disharmony? We expect much more.
  • Peter Garrett - as a government minister you make a hell of a good singer. To the backbench and soon.
So Kevin and team. Are you going to be the ones who do the impossible? Are you going to be the ones who lose an election, after one term, to Tony Abbott? I mean losing to Tony Abbott for goodness sake - you'd have to really be trying to do that. But that looks like where you are going right now.
Or are you simply going to shrink your majority to a wafer thin irrelevance and lose a few more senate seats in the half senate election so that you can achieve even less in your last term than your first?
Or are you going to stop trumpeting announcements and then failing to deliver on them? Are you going to get fair dinkum, in the way Hawke and Keating were? In the way John Howard did? Are you going to deliver real reform and real change?
If not you might as well go at the next election because you are failing to deliver what we elected you for.
That is such a bitter, bitter realisation.

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