In the wake of the Labor leadership ballot, I tried to think a bit about new directions for public policy in Australia. My conclusion, in short, is that there aren’t any. I’ve hammered the point that Gillard is a policy-free zone, and even her supporters haven’t pushed back on this. I have to concede though, that while Rudd’s challenge speech was impressive in many ways, he also failed to produce much in the way of new ideas.
The problem isn’t just one for social democrats and Labor supporters. Abbott is the worst kind of poll-driven populist, and Turnbull, the only person on the conservative side of politics who has anything resembling a clue has been permanently marginalized.
Finally, there’s the policy elite represented by the Fin, the Oz and the various establishment thinktanks and policy talkfests. After thirty years, they haven’t come up with anything better than the tired old 80s agenda of market-oriented reform, competition and productivity, encapsulated in Workchoices, rejected by the Australian public in 2007 and totally discredited by the GFC.
The Greens are the best shot, but under current conditions they can’t hope to do much better than their current role of supporting a minority government and/or holding the balance of power in the Senate. That gives them the chance to make a small number of non-negotiable deamnds (eg carbon price), and to exercise some influence. But in broader areas like economic policy, they remain marginal. Even though they have some good ideas, they aren’t treated as serious players in this field.
The best that can be said is that, as long as the terms of trade continue to boom, the cost of missed opportunities will not be all that great. Australia remains a lucky country, run by second-rate men (and now also women) who share its luck.
By contrast, US politics seems to be opening up to the ideas of the left, at the same time as the Repubs are spiralling off into the Delta Quadrant. All in all, a lot more color, interets and hope than the drab prospects before us.