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Rudd and policy substance

June 28th, 2013

Quite appropriately, since Kevin Rudd’s return to the Prime Ministership, a lot of people are reassessing his record in office. One of the stranger claims I’m seeing from a variety of sources is that he lacked policy substance. It’s fair to say that his election campaign in 2007 (when he had been Opposition leader for less than a year) was a fairly typical small target exercise, and that he didn’t have a big set of initiatives ready to go. But he soon started thinking about them – as the jibe of the time had it, he “hit the ground reviewing”. Among the reviews initiated while Rudd was PM were:

* The Henry inquiry into the Tax System, which gave rise to the mining tax
* The Garnaut review (taken over from the Labor states) which gave rise to the CPRS
* The Productivity Commission inquiry into a National Long-term Care and Support Scheme which gave rise to the NDIS
* The Gonski review of School Education
* The National Broadband Network
* A review of plain packaging for cigarettes, which came into force last year

In addition, of course, the Rudd government managed the successful response to the Global Financial Crisis. At the time, Rudd worked with Treasurer Wayne Swan and Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and it was hard to tell who was responsible for the brave and decisive switch to fiscal stimulus. But given Swan’s subsequent performance, especially after the departure of Rudd and Henry, it’s clear he wasn’t the leading figure.

So, the idea that Rudd lacked policy substance is silly. A fairer criticism is that Rudd was better on getting policy formulated than on getting legislation through Parliament and implemented. Against that

* He could reasonably have expected two full terms, so the fact that much of the agenda was unfinished when he was deposed is not a valid criticism
* Although he had a majority in the House of Representatives, he had to deal with a far less favorable Senate than that of the current Parliament. Despite that, he got a fair bit of legislation through

Finally, it would be worth doing a comparison between Rudd’s achievements and those of Tony Abbott, who held office for 11 years under Howard, first as a Parliamentary Secretary, then as a junior minister and, from 2001 as a Cabinet Minister.

Update In comments, Bronster reminds me of the the White paper on homelessness ‘The Road Home’, which led to a number of improvements. There was also the Dental Health Reform package, which finally came in last year. Then there was the elimination of most substantive discrimination against LGBT couples, the replacement of WorkChoices by FairWorkAustralia, and the abolition of full-fee university places for domestic students. Most of these last initiatives were not just proposed but implemented during Rudd’s first term.

Given what seemed like the certainty of an Abbott victory, I haven’t paid much attention to Labor’s policy agenda for the next Parliament, which Rudd has now inherited. The listing at Ausvotes mostly links to the 2013 Budget, which wasn’t big in the way of new initiatives as a I recall. Can readers point to policy initiatives from the current Parliament that Rudd (and his radically reshaped ministerial team) should be expanding on (or, alternatively, dumping).

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  1. Jim Rose
    June 28th, 2013 at 17:08 | #1

    The trouble was he tried to do it all on his own.

    He was dumped because his party did not think he had the skills to fight his way out of a hole when his popularity dropped 28 points

  2. June 28th, 2013 at 17:14 | #2

    Another questionable argument is the line pushed by Waleed Aly in The Age today. He argues that Julia Gillard has more real policy achievements than Kevin Rudd. The Party didn’t go with Rudd because he’s a better PM, he contends, but because he’s more popular – they just think he’s got a better shot at minimising the damage.

    I wont comment on the achievements angle since JQ’s already covered that, but I think the idea that Rudd’s popularity isn’t a “real” virtue for policy is wrong.

    An effective leader, whether in politics, the bureaucracy or business, must be able to manage “upstream” well. A good leader (or manager) has to court and persuade voters, or customers, or clients, or bosses or, if in the bureaucracy, Ministers.

    A good leader has to win them and keep them on side. The “troops” can do the technical stuff, the leader has to be able to connect them with with the upstream world and in many cases protect them from the bad stuff.

    It’s not a sufficient condition for good policy, but Rudd’s ability to connect outwards and upwards is a necessary one.

  3. harleymc
    June 28th, 2013 at 18:14 | #3

    Oh goody we can look forward to some reviews being set up before Labor’s voted out.

  4. John Quiggin
    June 28th, 2013 at 19:20 | #4

    After Abbott’s performance today, that looks a lot less likely

  5. Michael
    June 28th, 2013 at 20:06 | #5

    @John Quiggin

    Professor, any prediction of the likelihood of the Libs dumping Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnbull or is it still too early to predict?

  6. Robert in UK
    June 28th, 2013 at 20:36 | #6

    If the Libs dump Abbott (they won’t unless he falls behind in the polls), it will be for Hockey.

  7. John Quiggin
    June 28th, 2013 at 20:37 | #7

    @Robert in UK

    I think that’s right. After today, it looks like a serious possibility, but it’s just one bad day for Abbott

  8. Robert in UK
    June 28th, 2013 at 21:08 | #8

    @John Quiggin
    I agree. Mind you, I don’t think it’s been that disastrous a day. If Abbott keeps a small enough target I like his chances of a close win. I’ve got my fingers crossed for more days like today though!

  9. June 28th, 2013 at 21:24 | #9

    Pr Q said:

    Quite appropriately, since Kevin Rudd’s return to the Prime Ministership, a lot of people are reassessing his record in office. One of the stranger claims I’m seeing from a variety of sources is that he lacked policy substance…But he soon started thinking about them – as the jibe of the time had it, he “hit the ground reviewing”.

    Perhaps Pr Q could favour us with a few links or references to substantiate his claim about “stranger claims”. Its news to me. David Marr, Rudds biograoher, did not refer to Rudd as a policy light-weight. The general impression is that he is a smart guy who connects well to the general public but who is a real jerk in private.

    Pr Q said:

    A fairer criticism is that Rudd was better on getting policy formulated than on getting legislation through Parliament and implemented.

    That’s closer to the truth. But still charitable to a fault.

    Rudd commissioned numerous reviews, chaired committees, hosted summits etc. Talked a great policy game. Trouble was he was like a master chef who envisaged this great banquet but left a lot of half-baked meals for the rest of the kitchen cabinet to clean up.

    Even so, Rudd was not the sole moving force for all this frenetic policy debate in the first term of this ALP government. A Prime Minister is the first, but not the only, minister. He was the chairman of the board, not the Glorious Leader.

    The key items in the first term government agenda was set by the Strategic Priorities & Budget Commitee, a quadrumvirate (Rudd, Gilard, Swan & Tanner) in which Rudd had only 25% equity. But Rudd walked around like he owned the joint, which did not endear him to his colleagues. As Lenore Taylor observed:

    We did know that decision-making in the Rudd Government was dysfunctional, centralised and log-jammed… Ministers who might have forseen impending disasters were left astonishingly ignorant of major developments in their portfolios.

    The “policy light-weight” slur has been hurled at one recent ALP PM: Julia Gillard. And the foremost hurler has been none other than Pr Q. This is indeed a “strange claim”, one which I have refuted on this blog numerous times. Gillard had delivered on massive amounts of policy, some 582 pieces of legislation pasesed through the 43rd parliament under her auspices, in particular National Disability insurance, Gonski reform on education funding and the carbon tax.

    She also did everything in her power to clean up the asylum seeker mess. But the confederacy of dunces aligned against her – empowered by Rudd, but led by insufferable Evans, the High Court & the usual suspects in media-academia – were just too self-righteously pig-headed in the end.

    The day job of a working PM is practical execution, not theoretical conception. Its why they call the ministry the “executive” branch. Leave the high-concept stuff for the egg-heads.

    The truth is that both Rudd and Gillard have good qualities for high office: Rudd was good at revving up the public with head line grabbing programmatic conceptions, Gillard was good at the slow boring of hard boards, behind the scenes ministerial execution. Put them together and you would make one very formidable PM*. It’s the tragedy of the ALP that they worked against, rather than for, each other.

    * Although no one will ever compare to our political first love: “We Want Gough”.

  10. June 29th, 2013 at 00:06 | #10

    I think Rudd is going to be far more effective that Gillard at getting the media to focus on Abbott and what he represents/wants to do. And it does hark on the misogyny angle because, crudely and simplistically put, I think most people are far more receptive to listening to a man criticising (and quipping about) another man than a woman criticise a man. It appals me, but I think that’s a sad fact about the world we live in. Also, Rudd had some great contacts in the media – he’ll play that angle much better.

  11. June 29th, 2013 at 00:14 | #11

    Thanks Jack for saying what I would have thought if I was smart enough.

    I hope that it has been made clear to Rudd that his job is to be the charismatic public face and salesman of the ALP, both inside and outside Australia, and that the policy side is left to the ministers.

    Rudd should give himself a portfolio, so that he is kept busy and doesn’t find himself trying to get too involved with the minutiae of other ministers work.

  12. John Quiggin
    June 29th, 2013 at 04:59 | #12

    I’ve linked the Waleed Aly article, which was the one that most provoked me. I plan to avoid any further discussion of Julia Gillard’s performance as PM, at least until it’s a historical rather than a political issue, and request all commenters to do likewise.

  13. Ikonoclast
    June 29th, 2013 at 08:00 | #13

    I find it very difficult to believe;

    (a) that Rudd has a more difficult personality than many leaders we have seen over the years;


    (b) other ministers brought up in and survivors of the hurly-burly of union and public politics aren’t rough and tough enough to deal with such a leader and the fallout.

    This leads me to conclude that the claims that Rudd is so personally terrible (relative to most leaders) are largely fabrications.

    On the other hand, I can believe that they felt intellectually intimidated by him. Maybe that was their problem.

  14. hc
    June 29th, 2013 at 10:14 | #14

    The Henry Review was by in large a wasted opportunity. Maybe something will come from it down the line but the mining tax issue was poorly handled and the key issue of reforming state taxes was left unaddressed. The CPRS was proposed by Garnaut and rejected by Rudd. A carbon management scheme was introduced by Gillard for perhaps not the purest of motives.

    Both the NDIS, (the debatable) NBN and Gonski reforms were handled mainly by Gillard – not that well either – she didn’t articulate the reasons for the reforms convincingly. Neither (of course) did Rudd.

    John, I am bewildered by your affection for K. Rudd. I agree he has a view on everything – he is “active” – but does he always exercise his brain before expressing his views? Did he yesterday on the “asylum seekers” issue?

  15. rog
    June 29th, 2013 at 10:34 | #15

    Rudd is a very clever operator, almost single handed he has dominated policy and politics since 2007. The policies that he instigated have by and large been implemented; the Henry Review needs to be dusted off and worked on.

    On almost all points he has outpaced the hapless LNP, asylum seekers is an issue deeply embedded in Australian psyche and needs time to unpack. Issues like the NBN have left LNP in a state of advanced befuddlement; from once declaring that they would destroy the NBN they now promise to do it cheaper and quicker but don’t know how.

  16. pablo
    June 29th, 2013 at 10:46 | #16

    Fascinating to see who gets a cabinet and ministerial shot. You wonder if there isn’t also a bit of arm twisting to lure people like Combet back. Even though Rudd has a free hand you would expect some attempt at dealing with faction heads. Will there be an inner ‘quadrumvirate’ or kitchen cabinet or has Rudd been burnt on the idea. The body language as Rudd met continuing ministers before the last Question Time struck me.
    Expect Therese to keep the (one man) show on the road or should that be the rails?

  17. June 29th, 2013 at 11:36 | #17

    Will we see that comparison in another blog Prof Quiggin?

    Will we see an assessment from you where we should go from here economically in a blog too?

  18. paul walter
    June 29th, 2013 at 13:26 | #18

    Forget about Rudd’s flaws for a bit.
    He will not come up with anything worse than the coalition and some Labor ideas are better.
    This is- about blocking a takeover of our civil society. The election is a plebiscite, ultimately binding, the unconditional endorsement of the Gordon Gecko Manifesto that we’ve seen in operation just about everywhere since the Meltdown Heist,for the coalition and its backers.
    The non coalition parties regard neo feudalism as crook (the Greens) or something to be cop(p)ed sweetly with but not uncritically, except on the Labor right by Labor.
    Abbott/ Murdoch want this latter-day resurrected Haarz Mountains project valorised, let alone merely legitimated, let alone removed as a threat to civilisation.
    The leitmotif for our age is the Dacca Sweat-shop tragedy and its universalisation.

  19. Jim Rose
    June 29th, 2013 at 14:10 | #19

    Hinting of war with indonesia is not an act of substance

  20. June 29th, 2013 at 14:33 | #20

    The 457 visa issue is interesting. A friend of mine with contacts in the building trade sings the praises of 457 visas. He tells of bosses who gradually let their Australian workers go because the Philippino workers he got on 457 visas were so much keener. Part of the edge these workers have is that their families are back home, and they don’t have many local ties, meaning they are very flexible about the hours they are willing to work.

    But I’m wondering if my mate will be so keen when it is his kids trying to compete for a job.

    Rudd may want to focus on the realities of 457 visas.

  21. Michael (another one)
    June 29th, 2013 at 15:20 | #21

    Refugees and 457 visas aren’t policy but a clever selection devise to get the frightened old men (core conservatives), the intellectually lazy and the xenophobes all fired up. Howard was the undisputed master of this kind of thing. Will Australia be able to move off it onto discussing things that actually matter, like the potentially disastrous financialisation of the economy and the failure to create and support a mixed economy that serves the whole population? Not to mention the mounting environmental problems. But of course to some people everything is ultimately traced back to the fear and loathing of “economic migrants”. Pathetic!

  22. kevin1
    June 29th, 2013 at 17:28 | #22

    @Jim Rose
    “hinting of war with Indonesia” Hmmm, not something a PM who’s an ex-diplomat is likely to do. I recall the “conflict” word, and mention that “Konfrontasi with Indonesia evolved over a set of words.”

    Who introduced “war” into the discussion? Oh yes, the ignorant Opposition, echoed by their camp followers. This upgrading of rhetoric is a demonstration of how they will provoke conflict rather than settle it, if they ever get the chance.

    Statements by Indonesian officials for public consumption need to be parsed carefully and generally discounted. It is a notorious country for veiled and ambiguous commentary, including by non-diplomats.

  23. sunshine
    June 29th, 2013 at 18:48 | #23

    Looks like Rudd will get a better election result than Gillard – thats good but I agree with Latham that it set s a dangerous precedent for rewarding sustained poll driven white- anting campaigns . I think Gillards main problems are that she is unmarried ,female ,child-free, and an atheist . – she ticks a lot of scary boxes for conservatives .

  24. Hermit
    June 29th, 2013 at 18:58 | #24

    Things could go disastrously wrong in Abbott’s first year. He will have first time MPs barely out of Young Liberals (I was one once) and no matter how forgetful the Murdoch press people will recall his bile towards Gillard over political compromises. Mother Nature may not help with some weird weather that strengthens the public’s belief that climate change is a genuine threat. I would also expect some boat towing incidents to go badly, perhaps with children overboard. Abbott could be a oncer.

  25. rog
    June 29th, 2013 at 19:14 | #25

    @sunshine These gender issues, while normally valid, are a red herring in Gillards case. Gillard et al were the poll driven usurpers, something the voter has not forgotten or forgiven.

  26. kevin1
    June 29th, 2013 at 21:45 | #26

    On ABC Radio’s Late Night Live, Rodney Cavalier recently pointed to some issues relating to “insider” ownership of the ALP by the MPs and their courtiers, rather than the ALP members and voters who support them. Essentially, he restates that secular trends (predicted of social democratic parties by Robert Michels a century ago) mean that election of a PM by MPs is based on self-interest: their future jobs and prestige. Cavalier claims such one-sided structures are nowadays unusual in western democracies, and explain the instability in Aust leadership.

    In 2010 this means Gillard is supported by MPs as the way to a predictable and comfortable future, but in 2006 and now Rudd as the instrument to secure government. Implied is the idea that the voting polity are only the subsidiary givers of consent, and consent can be withdrawn by MPs acting according to self interest. Resonating with this view is Bertolt Brecht’s bitter sarcasm about the official response to the 1953 East German uprising:

    After the uprising on June 17th,
    The Secretary of the Writers Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Upon which was to be read that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could only reclaim it
    Through redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    Still for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

    —Bertolt Brecht, “The Solution,” Buckow Elegies No. 9 (S.H. transl).

    Just on the matter of “insiders”, when will Barrie Cassidy be called as a partisan commentator? Despite being a longterm Rudd hater (he wrote a book describing Rudd as a “party thief”), he is continually promoted by the ABC as an objective commentator and now as having “premonitions” 2 weeks ago that Gillard was to go. (This is actually acknowledged by him as being inside goss from his mates who are also Gillard supporters.) Yet people who call themselves “journalists” at the ABC now refer to his “premonition” about Gillard going down. Who trains these clowns? What does it presage for the future of ABC journalism?

    For one example of his Rudd hatred giving a blinkered view, I point to the 2011 TEPCO nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima. On “Insiders” he took up the Andrew Bolt criticism of Rudd in demanding info about what was happening. Rudd said on Insiders 3. 3. 2011 that “we and the rest of the international community need urgent briefings on the precise status of these reactors and we are seeking further corroboration of the technical and safety aspects of this from the Japanese government.” Barrie echoed Andrew Bolt’s indignation about this by saying that “if we and the international community were seeking information they would do it through the secretary general of the UN”.

    Bolt and Cassidy chose to assume that Rudd was just mouthing off, ignoring that as Foreign Minister he may have inside info about the reality on the ground. And Rudd was proven right – he was ahead of the game about the fraudulent behaviour and weak regulation of TEPCO http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/29/fukushima-disaster-tepco-blame_n_2978681.html

    Although I usually defend the ABC, their seeking of a reference point from the commercial sellouts and internal “wise old owls” like Barrie (rather than crusaders like Quentin Dempster or Chris Masters) is pathetic.

  27. John Quiggin
    June 30th, 2013 at 05:58 | #27

    A further request. No discussion of Gillard. Save it for the history books.

    Kevin, I absolutely agree re Barrie Cassidy

  28. Jim Rose
    June 30th, 2013 at 09:59 | #28

    Has rudd2.0 cured his fatal flaws. Is he calm under pressure and able to follow through to completition.

  29. rog
    June 30th, 2013 at 10:08 | #29

    @Jim Rose Flaws obviously not so fatal.

  30. Bronster
    June 30th, 2013 at 12:00 | #30

    Prof Quiggan

    You forgot the White paper on homelessness ‘The Road Home’ which was published in 2008. Has led to some improvements in homelessness. An increase in longer term supported social housing would lead to greater improvements though.

  31. Robert (not from UK)
    June 30th, 2013 at 12:57 | #31

    Professor Quiggin describes Abbott as “a senior minister for 11 years under Howard.”

    I don’t think that’s right. Abbott, I gather, only became a minister in 1998 (i.e. he was in the cabinet for nine years, not 11).

  32. kevin1
    June 30th, 2013 at 13:13 | #32

    Hi, I was unaware of this. Can you tell us what were the main proposals, and what was achieved?

  33. John Quiggin
    June 30th, 2013 at 13:45 | #33

    @Robert (not from UK)

    Actually, he was a Parliamentary Secretary for the first two years, then a junior minister until 2001, and a Cabinet Minister after that.

  34. Hermit
    June 30th, 2013 at 14:51 | #34

    Rudd’s political stocks may dwindle in his support base of Queensland when the average 23% power price increase hits home. No doubt there is a well reasoned 500 word explanation for the increase. The punters will explain it as 2 words carbon + tax. Whoever promises to repeal it gets the vote.

  35. June 30th, 2013 at 17:58 | #35

    QLD power price increases can be blamed on Campbell Newman…

  36. TerjeP
    June 30th, 2013 at 23:32 | #36

    Rudd is a walking policy disaster in my book. But he did end the wheat board monopoly.

  37. Michael
    July 1st, 2013 at 09:31 | #37

    Thanks TerjeP, I’ll take that as an endorsement ;-D

  38. kevin1
    July 1st, 2013 at 09:52 | #38

    @Michael (another one)
    Bill Mitchell’s recent analysis is that ABS employment figures show that f/t employment is falling and p/t increasing, with underemployment growing to 908,000 in our heavily casualised workforce. http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=24285

    Based on Gillard and O’Connor’s furphy about the rate of increase of 457 visas being greater than the rate of increase of general employment as a problem I didn’t support change; that’s exactly how it should work. But with evidence of rorts, Labor now has a better rationale for the 457 visa changes.

    But do they go far enough, with 600 occupations on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List? And since the rorting happened under Labor’s watch, what will they do to put some spine into the department’s surveillance of bosses using it to gain more power in workplace relations? Drawing on independent experts is needed as there are many ways to fake it on “market testing” http://theconversation.com/there-is-a-simple-solution-to-the-457-visa-impasse-15408

  39. Hermit
    July 1st, 2013 at 10:19 | #39

    I hope Australia gets a PM with the courage to actually implement a price on carbon and set a poll date.

  40. snuh
    July 1st, 2013 at 10:34 | #40

    i notice that rudd just dumped andrew leigh from cabinet. perhaps invites a judgment on his “policy substance”.

  41. kevin1
    July 1st, 2013 at 11:25 | #41

    ACOSS is claiming a “crisis” on housing affordability for the poor and “more complex” ousing demand, which will presumably be fleshed out on Four Corners program tonight. Hopefully the White paper and subsequent developments referred to by JQ and Bronster will be considered for effectiveness also.

    The entrenched distortion to asset allocation and wealth distribution from the “great Australian lurk” of property inflation should be on the post-election agenda – from the Taboo list to the To Do list.

  42. may
    July 1st, 2013 at 11:48 | #42

    Jim Rose :Hinting of war with indonesia is not an act of substance

    from the time the coalition engaged in it’s years long dummy spit,acts of substance have had nothing to do with the public conversation/debate/image.

    a very old person i know is convinced the labor government is going to take peoples hard earned superannuation from them.
    utterly convinced.
    a watcher of “deal or no deal”,commercial television and wireless is the source of this persons information.

  43. July 1st, 2013 at 12:06 | #43

    snuh :
    i notice that rudd just dumped andrew leigh from cabinet. perhaps invites a judgment on his “policy substance”.

    And I thought there wasn’t going to be any retribution?

  44. John Quiggin
    July 1st, 2013 at 12:46 | #44

    @John Brookes

    Leigh wasn’t a member of Cabinet or even a minister. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the (former) PM. That’s not a position you would expect to retain after a leadership change, even an uncontentious one.

    That said, it would have been good to shift or promote him, assuming he was willing to accept a position.

  45. Ron E Joggles
    July 1st, 2013 at 14:09 | #45

    <blockquote cite="#commentbody-204719"
    a very old person i know is convinced the labor government is going to take peoples hard earned superannuation from them.
    utterly convinced.
    a watcher of “deal or no deal”,commercial television and wireless is the source of this persons information.

    Whereas it’s Tony Abbott who will take away the $500 low-income super topup – and drop the tax-free threshold to $6,000 – perhaps you could find some information to print out for your elderly friend.

  46. snuh
    July 1st, 2013 at 14:41 | #46

    yeah no sorry, that was my fault in saying andrew leigh was in cabinet which he wasn’t. and my point about that is more “andrew leigh is a person with policy substance, and he’s being demoted”, rather than “this is retribution and that’s bad.”

  47. paul walter
    July 1st, 2013 at 16:51 | #47

    Yes, there has been much Cash-level hysteria over Andrew Leigh- when are people going to realise that the overall political situation is not a joke.
    Sometimes you do reform like Rudd/Gillard early, other times maybe about holding on to what was gained.
    A pie may be unappealing against fillet steak, but against zip it looks fair enough to me.
    Look instead outside, to the real world of austerity and its consequences.

  48. TerjeP
    July 1st, 2013 at 20:18 | #48

    and drop the tax-free threshold to $6,000

    Well so long as we are talking about substance you might like to justify that claim. Abbott said in the budget reply that he would keep the $18k tax free threshold.

  49. Ken Fabian
    July 2nd, 2013 at 14:42 | #49

    I thought asking how “Turn back the Boats” (TM) is expected to work in practice, with a neighbor that has made it clear that would be unacceptable is a very good question. Why should Tony Abbott be allowed to avoid having to explain? It needs to be spelled out because it’s a serious matter of Indonesia/Australia relations, not swept under the carpet in pretended outrage that anyone dares to ask it.

  50. Troy Prideaux
    July 2nd, 2013 at 15:14 | #50

    @Ken Fabian
    I’m under the impression it will be the same kinda policy and implementation as before under Howard ie. intercept boats at a permissible location close enough to their origin, empty fuel and leave just enough for them to return back to say Indonesia or wherever they came from. Whatever the strategy and methodology is, it’s interesting that it’s considered too politically unpalatable for the electorate to swallow at the moment.

  51. Alan
    July 2nd, 2013 at 20:55 | #51

    @Troy Prideaux

    However it’s done, towback is unacceptable to Indonesia. The Indonesian government has repeatedly said this. The opposition has carefully misunderstood what Indonesia has said. Indonesia has, unlike Australia, a real and serious refugee problem and it’s understandable they are reluctant to indulge Australia’s petulance over refugees.

  52. Troy Prideaux
    July 3rd, 2013 at 10:54 | #52

    Note though, I never mentioned tow back.

  53. Alan
    July 3rd, 2013 at 11:21 | #53

    @Troy Prideaux

    Whether it’s called towback or some other name is of no significance. Parsing certainly does not matter to the Indonesian government.

  54. Troy Prideaux
    July 3rd, 2013 at 11:42 | #54

    I disagree on the significance. Towing back inherently requires entry to the territorial waters of the relevant sovereign state by Australia’s Custom/Naval vessels. That inherently requires permission from such relevant sovereign state. Intercepting boats whilst still in Australian territorial maritime boundaries and forcing them back by depleting them of fuel shouldn’t directly interfere with the authority of the relevant sovereign state used to launch the transport.

  55. Alan
    July 3rd, 2013 at 14:48 | #55

    @Troy Prideaux

    The sovereign state in question has, rightly, made clear that cleverdick stuff that effects towback without admitting the reality falls within their objections to the policy. The practice also, as one naval commander noted in declining to carry out a towback order from Canberra, violates the law of the sea with respect to rescue of those in danger. Towback, admitted or otherwise, could, according to Admiral Barrie, constitute piracy.

    Outside the territorial sea (the 12 nautical mile limit) states have both obligations as well as powers. Those obligations cannot be magicked away by parsing. I suppose we could withdraw from the Law of the Sea Convention, but the economic consequences would be dramatic.

    The other thing about towback is that it is utterly ineffectual. All it does is cause the scuttling of boats to ensure that they cannot be returned to Indonesia.

  56. kevin1
    July 3rd, 2013 at 16:10 | #56

    Most informative array of facts yesterday by Peter Mares (who knows a thing or three about refugee policy), which debunks the conventional wisdom of a 90% approval rate at tribunals. http://inside.org.au/bob-carr-and-the-ghost-of-philip-ruddock/

    Also very interesting is Andrew Jakubowicz’s claim of Bob Carr’s signalling to Sunni leaders in Sydney who are concerned about Shia presence (middle class Iranians?), and whose political endorsements are up for grabs.

    Not surprising that Carr’s comment didn’t come out of nowhere.

  57. Jim Rose
    July 3rd, 2013 at 18:00 | #57

    to win government, labor must wins seats from the liberals who now have 74 plus katter. where will these seats come from?

  58. Nathan
    July 3rd, 2013 at 20:58 | #58

    @Jim Rose
    Is the Katter support known to be in the bag? I’ve not heard him come out definitively and he’s certainly personally closer to Kevin than Tony. But I may have missed it

  59. Alan
    July 4th, 2013 at 10:28 | #59

    Katter has extended confidence to the Rudd government. Naturally this leads to the obvious conclusion that Katter and any seats his party may win should be counted for the Coalition. I think. Ummm, maybe…

  60. Troy Prideaux
    July 4th, 2013 at 10:54 | #60

    Alan :
    The other thing about towback is that it is utterly ineffectual. All it does is cause the scuttling of boats to ensure that they cannot be returned to Indonesia.

    Even Labor are showing subtle signs of conceding that this line is (proven) nonsense (re: Tony Burke on Lateline last night)

  61. Alan
    July 4th, 2013 at 11:38 | #61

    @Troy Prideaux

    What is your evidence for the proposition that towback (by whatever name it is called) (1) has any effect except encouraging the scuttling of boats (2) is tantamount to piracy?

  62. Troy Prideaux
    July 4th, 2013 at 11:39 | #62

    How about the number of boat arrivals.

  63. July 4th, 2013 at 14:11 | #63

    It is an interesting fact that Howard never actually “stopped” the boats.

    The lowest number of boats under Howard in any year was 1.

    The last time there were no boats was under the ALP in 1988.

    See Appendix A:


    It would be interesting to hear the views of any of our self-identified devout catholic pollies on the visit of the pope to Lampedusa to comfort the refugees and float a wreath to mourn the thousands of people who have drowned on that boat journey.

    The Italian navy just transferred another 80 refugees to Lampedusa from a rusty boat today.

    If they can do it so can we.

  64. Troy Prideaux
    July 4th, 2013 at 15:24 | #64

    Megan :
    It is an interesting fact that Howard never actually “stopped” the boats.
    The lowest number of boats under Howard in any year was 1.

    Mind you, that’s by calendar year. By financial year, there are 2 years of no boat arrivals (as utterly trivial as it is). The charts within that great link do illustrate the gravity of the problem IMHO.

  65. July 4th, 2013 at 16:03 | #65

    @Troy Prideaux

    I hadn’t thought of it that way.

    Rudd “stopped the boats”, just this week.

    Except for Tuesday.

  66. Jim Rose
    July 5th, 2013 at 18:13 | #66

    Nathan :
    Is the Katter support known to be in the bag? I’ve not heard him come out definitively and he’s certainly personally closer to Kevin than Tony. But I may have missed it

    katter thinks of himself as old DLP. an economic nationalist too.

    Katter might like Rudd personally, but when abbott is PM, katter’s considerable ability to make the most of any situation will rule the day. no idea who he is to nominate as senator. His son?

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