What should Rudd do first

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

67 thoughts on “What should Rudd do first

  1. Also Rudd’s power as leader over the party machine will slowly ebb the longer away we get from the election – so I think tackling issues relating to political advertising and party funding might be a good place to start.

  2. On the subject of promises. There is a problem with the badly thought out tax cuts having an inflationary impact which would lead to higher interest rates etc. Rudd could auction most emission permits in emissions trading scheme and keep his promises while having some dampening on the economy. Normally the money raised would be spent on other emissions reduction measures or on reducing the regressive effects of a carbon price by compensating people on low incomes or reducing the taxation impact on people with low incomes.

  3. Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan would be higher priorities than any of the above as far as I’m concerned.

  4. “The standard approach of incoming governments in Australia has been to fabricate a crisis and dump the promises.”

    When it comes to financial commitments, there won’t be any need to fabricate a crisis: there really IS a huge global finance tsunami on the horizon!

    I think both parties knew they could promise the moon and not deliver it. Of course I would like a tax cut, but I’d also like to see money spent on schools and hospitals. More importantly, I’d like to see Rudd convene an all-states meeting ASAP, especially to work out how much money can be saved by not duplicating effort.

  5. Problem with party politics is that party members are made to feel that the party is more important than the community. Witness the depressing behaviour of Peter Garret.

  6. It will be a dilemma for Rudd, how can he break his promise of being a fical conservative so early in the term without blowback?

    And dumping a decade of AWAs may also be inflationary.

  7. I reckon his first move should be to start a weekly blog from the PM’s site. This sort of thing has proved pretty successful in the UK and was used rather successfully by David Cameron to re-badge the Conservatives as ‘in touch’, ‘future orientated’, ‘progressive’ etc etc. If Rudd doesn’t do it then Turnbull is sure to jump at the chance!

    In terms of policy, I certainly think that Kyoto will be first cab off the rank. Then, given Rudd’s love of administration, I think we’ll see the announcement of a couple of inquiries (Defence White paper, petrol, competition in the supermarket industry) and movement on tendering for broadband. There’ll also be some federal-state meeting thrown in amongst these things somewhere. After these meeting

    Those as an act of selfishness, I’d also like his government to think about formalising a system of superannuation for PhD students. Though some how I think I might have to wait until he’s dealt with climate change and war before I get a hearing!

  8. Funny how the stock market hasn’t crashed today, innit? 😉

    Now corporation-bound “economists” are warning Rudd not to fulfill promises, heed the RBA’s advice etc.

    I think he would be well advised to gather a few nuts before the global financial storm hits us harder. I think both parties knew they could promise the moon, with the tsunami still brewing, and never be held accountable. Rudd was only matching Howard’s profligacy and I suspect many Australians wont blame him if he doesn’t deliver the full $60 billion plus in promises.

    That said, there are countless opportunities to save money on Federal-State duplication, and I’d sooner see real improvements on education and health than premature tax cuts. Rudd should also slash the budgets of Defence and the AFP.

    And maybe he can ask Rupert to give back some of that government advertising money. Heh.

  9. He’s already trickling out the agenda for his first hundred days including Kyoto and a Ministerial code of conduct. I’m waiting for the detail to see what will happen.

    I’ve got to admit, I’d like him to find a politically acceptable way to back out of the huge tax cut (i.e. not just by executive fiat, like the fistful of dollars from the 70’s). I think that would take a very clever politician to deliver this one. Certainly the promise couldn’t be regarded as ‘non-core’.

    And unlike Bomber, I don’t think he’s Defence’s hostage. I understsand that Defence is immune to the efficiency dividend that all other Departments pay. If Tanner jacks up the efficiency dividend to 3.75% from 2% and applies it to Defence, they’ll be swimming in it.

  10. i believe pollies are as smart as dogs, at least. maybe even smarter than a 5th grader. consequently they explore their environment and maximize their reward. they will in short, do as they please.

    in a parliamentary society, there is no check on their egotism beyond personal morality and being ‘voted out’. success within a political party does not select for morality, and those who wish to prosper soon leave behind most of their initial precepts.

    the fear of being ‘voted out’ is commonly touted as the people’s check on power. for several reasons, it is not useless, but quite ineffectual.

    for one thing, the government can initiate an action 3 years before they have to face the electorate. that 3 year period can ruin a lot of lives. worse, reversing this policy may also be destructive. many people who would never have supported the war in iraq are yet well aware that leaving now might also be disastrous.

    then there is the problem that a government has the power of secrecy. this conceals any number of stinking messes indefinitely. difficult to punish a government’s crimes if they are unknown.

    sometimes, crimes, corruption, and incompetence are known but the vagaries of club-house politics in gang ‘b’ brings the to the polls with a visibly incompetent front bench. gang ‘a’ is returned while many of their voters are holding their noses.

    a parliamentary society is doomed to repeat these problems, for ever. democracy, with citizen initiative and direct election, can do much better.

    i don’t invite political parties to become more ethical, anymore than i ask hyenas to give up killing and eating little baby antelope. hyenas eat meat, pollies are amoral. in both cases, nature is filling an ecological niche and i never argue with mother nature.

  11. Al, I’m going to start deleting any comment which includes reference to the defects of parliamentary system and related hobby horses. We know your views on this and they don’t become more convincing with indefinite repetition. Feel free to post once a week on this topic in the Monday Message Board.

  12. Re #7: while the stock market has gone up I am very pleased to see that the Gunns’ share price is down by 5.8% 🙂 I don’t know if it means anything though – we shall have to wait and see!

  13. it’s your bat and ball. i hope i make a great many people uncomfortable at being reminded they live in a society whose fundamental structure precludes good planning and simple morality. it’s the only way i can hope to awaken in thoughtful people a need to strive for a better society.

    i will continue to write what i want, you have the power to prevent boredom or embarrassment. is censorship an integral part of being a ‘social democrat’ in a monarchy?

  14. A top priority is to plan for the complete abandonment of income tax(and GST, payroll tax, stamp duty, etc)for the switch to complete reliance on carbon and resource taxing http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,23636,22822406-31037,00.html
    The race to tie up the world’s resources, begun by BHP Billiton’s takeover offer for Rio was the advance warning of the tsunami of cash ready to flood over us and ultimately threaten the tax base with transfer pricing. There are other very good reasons for reliance on carbon and resource taxing, but the writing is on the wall now. Right up there in neon lights.

  15. Three conservative leaders in three days; watching their heads roll is more pleasure than any one person deserves. Now I know how much pleasure those old French women must have had sitting front and centre with their knitting watching the guillotine re-order French society. Oh dear I think I may have dropped a stitch.

  16. 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

    A revival of the Westminster system, which depends heavily on convention, and a willingness of participants to “do the right thing” is desperately needed.

    Prof Quiggin, in your list above, there is a group missing: ministerial staff. One of the characteristics of Howard government ministers was their continual refusal to permit their staffers to appear before Parliamentary committees and inquiries. From my understanding, staffers are able to operate in a legislative limbo/twilight zone, free of the obligations and constraints of public servants. The Howard government regarded this as a feature, not a bug.

    To his credit, Kevin Rudd indicated during the campaign that this will change. I hope he quickly follows through on his promise.

  17. One of the most necessary reforms was never mentioned in the campaign, the banning of political donations, to be replaced with public funding of campaigns. Surely by now it must be clear that donations can never be anything but bribery with corporations having the deepest pockets and the worst motives. Any move in this direction will of course be howled down by the corporate media.

  18. “Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan would be higher priorities than any of the above as far as I’m concerned.”
    No, no Gordon. Haven’t you heard about the good war and the bad war? You know, troops home by Xmas from bad Iraq and then off to good Afghanistnam in the New Year to stay the course until it’s mission accomplished, or possibly run out of troops. It’s the only morally superior path to take now and the new govt will explain it all to you in due course.

  19. John, all the issues you mention are important (although I believe ministerial responsibility will always have to be a matter of Prime Ministerial judgment).

    But your list leaves out other important issues –

    * more freedom of information (buckley’s chance of change here because of bureaucratic resistance);

    * greater accountability, through the Audit Office, of regional grants (rorts and pork barrelling);

    * tighter disclosure rules on financial donations to political parties;

    * review of parliamentary allowances (which now give the incumbent government too much advantage);

    * restructuring of the methods of appropriation (to improve accountability);

    * action to stop the corruption of Parliamentary question time and Senate Committee processes;

    * greater transparency and independence in the process of selection of statutory positions like on the ABC Board and High Court;

    * and finally greater use of referendums and plebiscites (one of the few good ideas of Howard when he was debating Council amalgamations).

  20. One of the most necessary reforms was never mentioned in the campaign, the banning of political donations, to be replaced with public funding of campaigns.

    The Greens have done a sterling job in recent years of tracking the donation flow to political parties, particularly in NSW. The sums involved are really quite large.

  21. Actually John I believe formally ratifying Kyoto requires a vote of the Senate.

    Furthermore, isn’t there a delay between the election and the new Senators taking their seats, meaning that ratification at the next Senate sitting would actually request coalition support.

  22. Question time was a pretty good way to see the Howard government’s attitude from the start. It will be interesting to see how the Rudd government treats Parliament.

  23. On education policies:

    Can someone tell me how the laptop policy is going to work in practice? Are the laptops going to be able to be carried between home and school? If so, how will issues like theft and damage be handled? Will the laptops become the property of the student or remain the property of the government? What happens where a student already has their own laptop? Will this constitute an arbitrary form of “means testing”? (- ie. if you are “rich” enough to have already bought your child a laptop, stiff cheddar.)

  24. Kevin Rudd has ordered all of his government members to visit a public and private school in their electorates. He could follow this up by ordering them to visit public and private hospitals, go to work on public transport, and visit some public housing estates. I realise these are all state’s areas but one of his promises (or was it a slogan?) was to end the blame game

  25. Another mechanics of government task is redoing the budget papers so they become informative again. This task has interestingly been given to Senator Andrew Murray of the Democrats.
    Nice to see the information now coming out about the bullyboy tactics of the Coalition Ministers eg Peter Martin in the Canberra Times today about Peter Costello.http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/news/opinion/opinion/exit-costello-the-flawed-master-of-quip-and-lip/1092746.html
    On reducing fiscal pressure, there are lots of ways to do this which don’t abandon the promised tax cuts. There are many relatively ineffective programs which can be pruned. Taxes on alcohol and tobacco could be dramatically increased which would have good health effects.

  26. “Can someone tell me how the laptop policy is going to work in practice?”
    Umm, please refer to your own answers MarkU. The moment it left their policy lips I just shook my head. Can you imagine the troops giving them out to aboriginals in the Territory?

  27. Rudd has prudently said there will be a period of consultation before the indigenous apology. Note that in Tasmania this has lead to compensation claims. There is a danger that those who voted for him may feel he is imposing too high a burden as taxpayers, borrowers or energy consumers. Rudd has to achieve several early milestones at modest cost.

  28. “Rudd has to achieve several early milestones at modest cost.”
    Cost? Who mentioned anything about cost? He’s just supposed to say sorry so we can all move on.

  29. OK MarkU, think logically about the question of laptops for all Yr9-12s.

    1. Of course they’ll have to take them home to do their homework, but more importantly so that schools don’t have classrooms full of 25-30 laptops to be burgled and subsequently burned like cars to remove any incriminating DNA.
    2. Whether they belong to the govt or the kids, you can’t sue minors for damaging or losing them.
    3. If they are given to the kids, then if middle class kids lose them or damage them, their middle class parents will replace them cheaply from Cash Converters or unredeemed pledges at the payday lenders. Struggletown will just get their kids to ‘acquire’ some classmates identical laptop. Certain Territory aboriginal parents will trade them for grog, drugs and pornography and not care about replacing whitefella culture.
    4. As for the possibility of not giving one to those who already own a laptop, a national survey for the purpose will find that all the laptops currently brought to school are really owned by dad’s work, a close relative or Yrs1-8 siblings and are being borrowed.
    5. Just before the finalisation of tenders, some leftist professor of economics will raise a hue and cry about the magnitude of the sum going to Bill Gates for all the software, raising a further hue and cry from the usual suspects, forcing the Rudd Govt to turn it all over to a lengthy Commission of Enquiry as to whether open sourced software should be used. That will defer the whole matter to be the burning election issue in 2011. In the meantime free Mem Fox books will be given out to the littlies with great fanfare to soothe hurt feelings.

  30. The issues that Prof Q touches on are not expensive but do go to the heart of a democracy. An independent public service can never be achieved whilst people are employed on AWAs. The Libs made this mandatory in DEWR which is why nobody mentioned that it was a stupid idea ( and riddled with red tape.

    Ministerial responsibility and a process to ensure that it occurs, a public service that is apolitical are not so difficult. It would also establish very early that we are travelling in a new direction.

    The rort of the parliamentary electoral allowance being dropped back to its previous level, the declaration of donations over $1,000, the clsoing of electoral rolls after two weeks would be simple steps and yet would signify that there is a pact for better governance with the Australian people.

  31. Repealing workchoices and reregulating the labour market will come at a cost and Rudd will be battling to contain erosion of disposable income – a key election argument of his was to increase not decrease personal prosperity.

  32. From the Labor website:

    “The National Secondary School Computer Fund will allow secondary schools to apply for capital grants of up to $1 million to acquire new or upgrade information technology equipment.

    This could include personal laptops or computers, thin clients with virtual desktops[1] and internet network infrastructure to plug our secondary schools into the information superhighway.”

    Nothing there about giving every child their own laptop to do with as they will.

    But who needs the actual policy when we can manufacture fantasies about abos selling government property to feed their booze habit. Next you’ll be asking who’s going to be buying all these laptops in places like Utopia.

    It’d be a relatively simple matter to provide kids with wireless smartphones (or the new $200 computers just released in the US) tied to the school’s intranet.

    But by all means keep up the “we’ll all be roon’d” whining, it makes a nice change from the constant complaints about Howard’s critics being a bunch of knockers.

  33. Yeah, I’d reckon the $200 laptops locked as thin clients off centralised servers is the way to go. Apart from being cheap, easy-to-manage, secure, obsoloscence-resistant and a boost to open systems (with all those kids becoming familiar with them), it would radically reduce the sale-for-booze and break-in problems that worries observa so much.

  34. Derrida – it’s also the best way to stop the little buggers from using it to look at porn (for the first week or so until one of them hacks the system).

  35. Good grief! I agree with JQ – that is a first.
    What is sad, though, is the tribalism that remains so strong in Australian politics – the viciousness of the commentary about Howard. It reminds me of what people said when I was a kid – if Mr Menzies ever lost to the ALP the world would come to an end. Then the tribalism was class and religion (protestant v catholic)based. I really don’t know what is depends on now. Doctrine is just about neutralised but people are expected to accept the whole package from a party (particularly who you must hate) or be “hypocritical”. As an economic rationalist civil libertarian atheist who believes PJK was our best treasurer and EGW and JMF close rivals as our worst PM, I find it all very strange.

  36. Re JQ’s wish to restore the Westminster system. Firstly I would like to see legislation formalising the role of ministerial advisors.

    In particular I would like to enshrine a revised principle of ministerial responsibility: if a document has been registered into the ofice the minister is deemed to have seen it for purposes of determining if Parliament has been misled.

    No more advisors as fall guys.

    In the short run it will lead to a few ‘unfair’ resignations. In the long run it will confine the employment of these little pests to a few, highly trusted ones.

    Departmental heads, should be selected by ministers from a short list of say, three chosen by the Public Service Commission on merit grounds. Ministers should be allowed to replace a Head they can’t work with.

    Then there’s FOI. Shouldn’t the governing principle be that we the citizens are the owners of all information in the hands of our servant, the government?

    In the Google era shouldn’t we just be able to surf a digitised file registry

    We should be entitled to this as of right unless the rights of our fellow citizens are infringed. If the government wishes to contest this right it must do so in the courts.

    The judges who might hear such claims should be security cleared to the highest level before appointment and this might have to be extended to counsel as well.

    Where an FOI application is knocked back the principle should be that it will be met to the fullest extent possible at the earliest time possible, again determined by court order.

    Again there would probably be some embarrassing incidents to start with. Eventually everyone would adjust and the unnecessary power of politicians and bureaucrats would be curbed.

    Ahh! Snuffle, snuffle. Yawn. Gee that was a lovely dream. I must have some more of that new herbal tea.

  37. An electoral redistribution would be a good idea.

    According to my (rough) calculations, about 48% of the electorate live in safe seats. About 21% of these are in safe Coalition seats and about 27% are in safe Labor seats. There are not only more safe Labor seats, but they are, on average 3% larger than safe Coalition electorates. I believe this hasn’t changed since I did undergrad polsci 4 decades ago. What may have changed, however, is that it’s no longer a rural gerrymander (except for Lingiari which basically covers all of the NT and is safe Labor). The Nationals’ seats aren’t significantly smaller than city seats. But Labor still has to get 52% to win.

  38. I’m with you Ken Nielsen. I voted ALP this time. I just thought it was time for a change – 11 years for one party is long enough. Time to see what the other mob can do. I’m also surprised by some of the negative commentary from some quarters on Howard (ala Alan Ramsey – what an unhappy little fellow he must be!).

    I think the Howard/Costello years were fantastic for Australia. As a country we’ve gone to a whole new level of prosperity. Ironically that’s why they’ve now gone. We are all well off enough that we can afford to experiment with the other side of politics for a while – especially because the other side of politics is almost indistinguishable from the Coalition that I voted into power in 1996. Kevin Rudd has cleverly steered the ALP into the middle ground that Howard used to occupy.

    The interesting thing to watch will be whether Rudd can use his emphatic victory (driven almost entirely by himself) to keep control of the party and stop it drifting back to the left. If he can do that then he could be PM for a long long time. The first test will be whether he gets the cabinet he wants or whether he allows caucus to interfere.

  39. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/11/27/2102601.htm?section=justin

    “Ratifying Kyoto Protocol takes time: law expert

    Posted 2 hours 4 minutes ago

    An international law expert has cast doubt on whether the newly elected Federal Government will be able to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in the short term.

    Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has nominated ratifying the treaty quickly as one of his top priorities.

    But Professor Donald Rothwell from the Australian National University says the normal ratification is a lengthy process requiring a National Impact Analysis, a parliamentary inquiry and development of new laws to support the treaty.

    He says even if this is cut short, the treaty cannot be ratified quickly because of the need for new laws.”

  40. The tax cuts have to be dumped or delivered as super (savings) to reduce the pressure on interest rates. Otherwise we are guaranteed a recession.

  41. The tax cuts have to be dumped or delivered as super (savings) to reduce the pressure on interest rates. Otherwise we are guaranteed a recession.

    And have a repeat of the L-A-W tax cut fiasco? I think the ALP will take its chances on a recession.

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