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What should Rudd do first

November 26th, 2007

Ratify Kyoto – it’s a stroke of a pen, needs no legislation, is a simple Yes-No decision and will have a big impact.[1]

Straight after that, though, something much harder. Rudd needs to reverse the decline in ethical standards that we’ve seen under Howard, and which began much earlier, going back at least to the 1970s. Arguably, Howard’s ultimate fate was sealed within a few days of taking office with the abandonment of what he later called ‘non-core promises’. That set the pattern for the many lies and improprieties that followed.

Unless the government acts now, before it has anything it wants to hide, the temptations of office will be too much. Some of the elements needed:

* An end to political advertising on the taxpayer’s dollar. After Howard’s disastrously counterproductive blitz on WorkChoices, this ought to be a forced move. But no doubt there are already plenty of self-rated smart operators in the backrooms thinking about how to use the resources of government in the interests of party

* A ministerial code of conduct. John Howard’s 1996 code would be a good starting point. His abandonment of this code to save Warwick Parer was a defining moment in his government’s decline and ultimate downfall. By contrast, Peter Beattie’s willingness to lose his own deputy premier and numerous other ministers has led to political success despite numerous scandals.

* A revival of the Westminster system. It’s too late to go back to the old idea of an apolitical public service, but a clear statement of the roles of ministers, departmental heads and public servants is needed. In my view, we should accept that the departmental head is the personal appointee of the minister, and they should share responsibility for the acts of the department. In particular, any information known to the department head should be presumed to be known to be minister. All public servants below that level should be permanent and apolitical

* Keeping promises. Rudd made some pretty bad promises to get in, such as matching tax cuts and keeping the private health insurance rebate. The standard approach of incoming governments in Australia has been to fabricate a crisis and dump the promises. While this has an obvious appeal, its long-run effect is corrosive, and is reflected in Howard’s downfall.

fn1. As pointed out in comments, it’s not as easy as that. But the fact that some exceptional measures need to be taken to get an immediate start on ratification will only increase the impact of the decision.

UpdateA more comprehensive guide from Miriam Lyons at the Centre for Policy Development

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  1. Ian Gould
    November 27th, 2007 at 20:02 | #1

    The first thing Rudd should do is fix that bloody intersection at the Agnew Street rail bridge – seriously what use is it having the PM as my local member if he can’t stop people going the wrong way down a one way street?

    More seriously: he should remove the tariff on imported ethanol and scrap the excise on ethanol; then he should zero-rate renewable energy and renewable energy equipment (wind turbines; solar hot water systems) for GST purposes.

    Speaking of GST, I really don’t mind that much that counting GST; company tax; my own income tax and the withholding tax from my employees I personally collect and pay to the tax office each year enough money to buy a house (admittidly not a particularly nice house)but I do object to the amount of time I have to spend on BAS paperwork – especially for the smaller of my two companies.

    I’d love to see the threshold for mandatory GST registration raised from $50,000 to, say, $500,000.

    While we’re at it, how about copying the UK and having a lower rate of corporate tax for the first $50,000 or so of income?

  2. observa
    November 27th, 2007 at 20:47 | #2

    Actually you’d have to say putting an affordable roof over everyone’s heads has to be numero uno http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,23636,22831184-31037,00.html
    If wall to wall Labor fail on that, they’ll quickly be dead meat.

  3. observa
    November 27th, 2007 at 20:54 | #3

    Perhaps when all is said and done, that whole election was really all about interest rates and housing/rental affordability?

  4. rog
    November 27th, 2007 at 21:13 | #4

    When it is all said and done, it was about identifying the group most at risk and working them over

  5. rog
    November 27th, 2007 at 21:19 | #5

    On housing shortages, the NSW industry property group has been warning for some years about the shortage of the “land bank”, it takes a long time to develop large tracts of open space into housing.

    The previous Premier was against more housing saying that the city couldnt cope with more people and he created more national parks and prevented land moving from the crown to freehold.

  6. observa
    November 27th, 2007 at 21:38 | #6

    If the conventional wisdom is that Howard largely won the last time on interest rates, then it stands to reason he lost this time on that same issue, given the succession and timing of hikes. Not such a problem in WA because they had those mining boom incomes as a buffer. Easy to check where the biggest swings took place. Mortgage belts eh?

    Also as I look around the building sites there’s a huge gap between the 50 somethings and the thirties and unders, as well as a large discrepancy in the respective group numbers and we larger group of oldies are dropping off fast. The die is now cast and Rudd and Co need to understand that and react swiftly, or their coming ownership of housing affordability will make Howard’s look positively sublime. Remember it’s- Gotta problem? Blame Labor now.

  7. swio
    November 27th, 2007 at 22:28 | #7

    I don’t think housing affordability is going to be an exclusively Labor problem. Yes they’ll be in government everywhere but in order for that to matter politically either the electorate would have to believe Labor produced the high housing prices or the Co-alition has to up come with a credible plan to do something about it. The first is unlikely since the entire housing boom happened under Howard and the second just ain’t gonna happen because there is no practical way to fix high house prices except time or a recession.

  8. observa
    November 28th, 2007 at 07:43 | #8

    If you say so swio, but to me it looks like you can have a good economy, humming along with record employment, along with some popular side issues like tough on terror and illegals and yet still get swept away by a few interest rate rises and no doubt concomitant rent hikes. Perhaps staying in govt is really all about keeping the great Australian dream alive and if you don’t, the Opposition only has to sound concerned and have a gabfest of handwringers and they’re in, until they fall victim to the law of incumbent responsibility. I guess we’ll see how signing Kyoto, fixing up draconian Workchoices, education revolutions, etc all stacks up if the Aussie dream sours even further as all the indicators portend.

  9. observa
    November 28th, 2007 at 07:51 | #9

    My hunch is the best advice to Labor is- It’s the McMansion stoopids!

  10. November 28th, 2007 at 10:25 | #10

    I think they should abolish the 17.5% tax on clothes (well most clothes).

  11. Ian Gould
    November 28th, 2007 at 13:31 | #11

    “If you say so swio, but to me it looks like you can have a good economy, humming along with record employment, along with some popular side issues like tough on terror and illegals…”

    Did you ever stop to consider that those “side issues” might not be as popular as you assume?

  12. Ian Gould
    November 28th, 2007 at 13:34 | #12

    Terje – there’s a magnificent piece of cognitive dissonance adhered to by many on the Australian left that says a 17.5% tariff on clothing is fine but that a 10% GST on clothing is a crime against humanity.

    Personally, I’d like to see essentially all tariffs removed – with appropriate compensation and retraining for affected workers.

    But realistically, it’s not something Rudd can do in the short term.

  13. observa
    November 29th, 2007 at 09:03 | #13

    “Did you ever stop to consider that those “side issuesâ€? might not be as popular as you assume?”
    I have, but considering the metoo attitude to dealing with illegals and staying the course in Afghanistan at least, plus no move to slacken ant-terror laws and measures, I discounted any other fanciful assumption.

  14. Andrew
    November 29th, 2007 at 22:47 | #14

    First test passed with flying colours…. Rudd’s ministry looks pretty good. So far caucus has behaved itself.

  15. Michael Angel
    December 3rd, 2007 at 16:37 | #15

    Gee a blog where I agree with everyone!
    I must be getting old and mellow.

    Yes what price computers where kids can’t be trusted with a pencil and the St.V.de P comes in every week with a fresh change of underwear for the week. (The old lot is burnt) And even the downpipes have been stolen? The teacher’s must leave all in a phalanx at 3pm (for fear of leaving anyone behind) -(outer W. Sydney schools).

    One ingenious way of getting rid of the Budget Excess, not fuelling inflation,doing some local Pork baraling, (to keep the back-bench happy) insulating our economy against Bush’s ruination of the US economy, AND meeting all election promises is to take a page from the Coalition’s book-”Future Funds”.
    I think the concept of “Future Funds” could be better developed into something lasting, useful and initially non-inflationary.
    IE or EG
    Say you give your favourite cause (Alternative energy technology, free dentistry,Smith family,hospitals, science research,the ABC drama dept.) a ‘stake’ of $1 million to 1/2 to 1 billion $. You told them (whoever you gave it too-ABC Board etc.,) that they could only spend, in any one year, 50% of the investment income, the rest has to go back to the principle. Eventually the “Future Funds” would become self supporting (apart from the occasional accountant’s flight to S.America).
    If you wished you could allow 105% tax break for donations to the principle of Future Funds to encourage business and corpoarte donations(It is also a good advertisement.)
    This is a way of getting rid of excess tax revenues, meeting election promises and future-proofing us against the end of the mining boom.
    It would be nice to have a FF for ‘Australian Venture Capital’
    or
    even a $100,000 for my falling-down, brilliant, poverty stricken, running-on-the smell-of -an–oily-rag, kid centred, local Conservatorium of Music. It would help the new labor local member’s chances of being re-elected too .
    What price a $1,500 student’s violin Kevin?

  16. Ian Gould
    December 3rd, 2007 at 17:22 | #16

    “Apart from predicting that George Bush would win the 2000 presidential election in a landslide, Steyn said at regular intervals that Osama bin Laden “will remain dead”. Weeks after the invasion of Iraq he assured his readers that there would be “no widespread resentment at or resistance of the western military presence”; in December 2003 he wrote that “another six weeks of insurgency sounds about right, after which it will peter out”; and the following March he insisted that: “I don’t think it’s possible for anyone who looks at Iraq honestly to see it as anything other than a success story.” I miss him, too.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1953116,00.html

    But hey I’m sure Mark’s entirely right about the Muslims conquering western Europe within the next twenty years.

    And if he isn’t I’m sure Observa will be bitterly disappointed.

    Isn’t if funny how people who complain about others hating America or hating the west, hate so much about the west themselves?

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