Welcome to the Rudd years

Image thanks to Paul Batey.

There’s one very clear moral from Saturday’s stunning Labor victory: Australia is not America.

We saw throughout the year, and accentuated during the campaign proper, the importation of a whole host of distasteful US campaigning techniques straight out of the Karl Rove playbook. Whether it was the endless succession of wedges (mostly driven against the marginalised and vulnerable) or the insanely vociferous negative ads, not even the plays which managed to keep George W Bush in power in 2004 could save John Howard in 2007.

We even saw the spectre of the litigation of election results raised (extremely incompetently) by the Google Assassin, Andrew Robb. It’s to Labor’s credit that it largely ran a positive campaign, even if the details of the ‘fresh thinking’ and ‘new ideas’ sometimes lacked the detail or the vision we might have wished for. And it’s significant that the Australian people chose hope over negativity and division something Kevin Rudd recognised in his victory speech, where his inclusiveness was positively Hawke-ian.

It was very interesting on the first morning of the Rudd era to read what Right-wing commentators in North America had been saying about the election result. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald linked to a number of pieces by the neo-con punditariat, one of whose shining lights, Canadian author Mark Steyn, bizarrely described John Howard as a ‘doughty warrior of the Anglosphere.’ It’s unlikely that the view that will be taken of the ‘man of steel’ by Australian Liberals will be anywhere near as respectful. The reason Howard’s concession speech went on so long was that it was all about his legacy. He has to defend it himself, because few others will.

But more broadly, there’s something very important hidden in the way Steyn’s words ring so hollow in this country. The so-called ‘Anglosphere’ is an ideological construct stitched out of whole cloth by international Right-wing culture warriors. John Howard made ‘values’ one of his signature issues, but the waffle that often entailed about ‘mateship’ or whatever completely missed the fact that genuine Australian values were the targets of many of his political moves which is why, soundbite that it is, the phrase ‘without tossing the fair go out the back door’ worked so well for Kevin Rudd. Labor made it clear that the economy wasn’t the same thing as society, and that fairness and a collective way forward were fundamental to the future of this nation.

Howard is quite right to say that conservatives will be deterred from attempting anything like WorkChoices again by its repudiation through this election result. That is, they will if they ever want to win again. We just don’t have the same myths as they do in the US about meritocracy and hard work being rewarded. Class may not have the salience it once did in Australian politics, but there’s no doubt that Australians recognise that the workplace can be a tough place, and not everyone can negotiate its travails on their own. That was a message also spelt out clearly in Kevin Rudd’s victory speech, where he referred movingly to Bernie Banton and to the delight of many Labor supporters to the ‘great Australian trade union movement.’

Similarly, in international affairs, whether on climate change or the Iraq War, there is no doubt that Australia will now once again be travelling its own path, and that should be something that inculcates a sense of pride, rather than being ludicrously denigrated as somehow disloyal to great and powerful friends.

I was reading Neal Blewett’s Cabinet diaries recently. What struck me, aside from the fact that Hewson’s trashing of individuals and institutions in the service of partisan advantage was then seen as genuinely outrageous (while his successor and his followers made an art form of it), was the constant references to discussions among Ministers to how various policies could be tweaked to better the lot of the most disadvantaged.

A Rudd Labor Government may not bring about the millennium overnight as some might hope, but it can be expected to hew close to such core Labor values as reflected in the Keating Government. And that’s as it should be. I started this campaign quite skeptical of Kevin Rudd, but I’m much more hopeful now that the new Labor Government will do many good things. One of those things will be the re-assertion of our national values and our story, a story now oriented towards the future rather than the past.

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.