Rudd and policy substance

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).

66 thoughts on “Rudd and policy substance

  1. @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.

  2. @Alan
    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.

  3. @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.

  4. 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.

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

  6. @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

  7. 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…

  8. 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)

  9. @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?

  10. 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:

    http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2012-2013/BoatArrivals

    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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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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