30 Jul 2013

Rudd's Risky, Rushed Populism

By Ben Eltham

Kevin Rudd is a master of populist policy - made on the run. 'Announceables' such as youth bootcamps and the PNG solution will create headaches down the track, writes Ben Eltham

In his book Sideshow, former Rudd government finance minister Lindsay Tanner wrote that there were only two rules that mattered in contemporary politics. “(1) Look like you’re doing something; and (2) Don’t offend anyone who matters.”

Kevin Rudd's first term could scarcely be faulted when it came to rule 1. The peripatetic Prime Minister spent so much time on the government jet he earned himself the moniker “Kevin 747”, and in general, his administration was notable for the frenetic pace of his policy-making.

But Rudd's manic performance had its drawbacks. All too often, policies were announced, frantically campaigned on for a few weeks, then discarded as the caravan moved on to the next topic. In 2009 and 2010, for instance, Rudd invested huge amounts of political capital in health and hospitals reform. But voters were barely aware Rudd was fighting a battle before he declared victory and moved on to his next set piece: a disastrous tilt at the vested interests of the mining lobby, in the form of the Resource Super Profits Tax.

The Resource Super Profits Tax was an idea that had emerged from Ken Henry's “root and branch” review of the taxation system. This long-running effort resulted in a detailed series of recommendations from the then Treasury Secretary on the future shape of Australia's taxation system. Again, voters were no sooner told of the Tax Review's reform agenda before Wayne Swan ruled most of them out. What he ruled in was the mining tax, which Labor then attempted to legislate with almost no attempt at explaining the need for the reform. In the meantime, Labor had enraged a powerful interest group that quickly moved to attack the government in a massive media campaign.

You can spot the pattern here. Meeting Tanner's first rule of the political sideshow often risks violating his second. The problem is traditionally described as “policy on the run”. Policies that are announced without being fully worked through, or explained to voters thoroughly, or without effective consultation with the vested interests they will negatively affect, can quickly run into a storm of criticism. And that's exactly the risk Kevin Rudd Mark 2 is currently running.

The phenomenon is one familiar to historians and politicians down the ages: the law of unintended consequences. Actions have reactions. Crashing through can sometimes just mean crashing. Even if things go well initially, a steady accretion of damaging criticism can slowly chip away at the popularity of a policy and a government.

We might be seeing the beginning of that process with Labor's bold new plan to resettle seaborne asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea. The plan has so far proved very popular with voters. A recent Essential poll finds 61 per cent of those surveyed are in favour. A Galaxy poll finds Kevin Rudd has pulled ahead of Tony Abbott on the question of which leader is best able to deal with unauthorised arrivals. On initial polling, then, the manoeuvre appears to be a tactical masterstroke.

But in politics, matters are never so simple. Unexpected events can often strike down a policy or announcement from an unexpected direction. Labor thought it had a similar panacea with the Malaysia Solution of 2011. The High Court struck it down.

Similar pitfalls could await the PNG Solution. A legal challenge to the policy here in Australia seems inevitable. International commentators are also beginning to view the deal with opprobrium: today, for instance, the editors of news wire service Bloomberg criticised the Rudd government for what it called a “dangerous new refugee policy” that they say will weaken international support for the UN Refugee Convention.

Politics in our northern neighbour is volatile, to say the least, with local opposition to the deal already beginning to emerge. The stability of PNG is an open question, with the country's main medical school recently trashed by two truckloads of rampaging PNG soldiers. PNG's civil bureaucracy is weak and corrupt, its governance institutions far from effective, and the country is wracked by ethnic tensions related to land tenure. Just last year, landowners on Manus Island blockaded the airport in a protest calling for preferential treatment on construction and employment at the detention centre there.

The policy is not without controversy in our region, either. Fiji's military government has slammed the deal, with Fijian foreign minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola saying yesterday that the deal will destabilise the region. “For an Australian problem you have proposed a Melanesian solution that threatens to destabilise the already delicate social and economic balances in our societies,” he said.

Not the least of the Government's worries is the likely cost of the PNG Solution. Like his predecessor, new Treasurer Chris Bowen has some serious money troubles, as tax revenue continues to disappoint. Further, on returning to office, Kevin Rudd made a number of decisions that will cost billions in future years, including the PNG deal and the decision to move to a floating carbon price a year early. There is also talk the government will reverse the unpopular cuts to parenting payments implemented under Julia Gillard, and perhaps find some extra money for universities or manufacturing industry hand-outs.

Consequently, Bowen now has to put together something approaching a mini-budget in the remaining weeks leading up the federal election. The Treasurer is expected to release an economic update in coming days that will update the current state of the budget deficit. Bowen has said that he remains committed to the government's mythical surplus target. “If you are returning to surplus, and you have a reduction in revenue, then there are decisions that need to be made responsibly to get to surplus,” he said on ABC 24 yesterday afternoon. Given this, the statement is expected to include some new spending cuts to help pay for Rudd's new spending and the ongoing weakness in taxation receipts. 

Bowen might not be missing his previous responsibilities as Immigration minister, but that doesn't mean his current duties are any less onerous. The Treasurer is between a rock and a hard place, with little fat left to cut from federal spending, and not enough revenue flowing into ATO coffers. Further deep cuts to government spending might seriously jeopardise economic growth, which is itself trending down as the massive mining investment boom ends. The government might need another $20 billion over three years to reach its target of a 2015-16 surplus. As ANZ economist Cherelle Murphy told the ABC's The Business last night, that equates to roughly $7 billion a year. “That's worth about 0.4, 0.5 per cent of GDP, its a fairly substantial number.”

Perhaps that's why some of Bowen's colleagues are looking for easy “announceables” that will make headline and save money at the same time. Kate Ellis and Bill Shorten have reportedly taken a proposal to the Expenditure Review Committee for a “boot camp” style policy for unemployed youth, which would, according to Shorten, “provide motivation, focus and employment skills for young jobseekers.” They would also provide some extra money that could be allocated out of current Job Services Australia providers to pay for reinstating benefits to single mothers. The proposal has yet to go to cabinet, but it is of a piece with recent Rudd Government announcements: long on populism, short on substance.

The lurch to the right that Rudd warned about after being deposed in 2010 has so far worked a treat in dialling back Tony Abbott's electoral prospects. But should Labor win re-election, the rush towards populism that currently characterises Labor's policy-making is storing up plenty of trouble for a third term.

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Posted Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 14:21

I can't believe I am writing that, despite my fear and trepidation about the damage an LNP Government would do with its current evidence-free ideological stances on everything, I would prefer Australia to suffer this idiocy than have Labor sticking its Right Foot out - and tripping over the basic decency of its long forgotten Left Foot

And what's the point of a boot camp if you still come back to no job and the constant carping criticism of the Meanies who actually believe the job stats - I presume that the Rudd Big Australia Hoons, the Ruddbahs, imagine that people like me will volunteer in our retirement to run these wank-fests.

Boot camps are designed for people who lost their way and have something to come home to  - so useless for most unemployed, under-employed and casualised young people - and all asylum seekers

Disgruntled Loner
Posted Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 16:14

Why are the racist demands of a Military Dictatorship given any weight at all? Australian Racists are quite rightly laughed at when they call for a ¨White Australia¨, yet the call by the Fijian Military to maintain ¨Melanesia for Melanesians¨ is simply repeated with out comment.

Posted Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 17:01

Abbott's Risky, Rushed Populism.

Abbott is a master of populist policy - made on the run!

There is on thing however Abbott only is truly unequelled, telling porkies.

Hav a look at Alan Austin's latest fact check on IA.


In light of this deceit dealing with "populism" issues all of a sudden become secondary, doesn't it?

Have Murdoch and his IPA/LNP/ABC mates made up your mind how to vote?

Posted Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 18:25

Terrific article. Are many in the Labor Party happy to win government with Kevin as their leader? Surely a poisoned chalice! After the debacle in NSW. Labor need a good kick.

Posted Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 19:01

The problem, MWH, is our preferential voting which means, in most electorates, your vote ends up with the Nasties. I'll vote Green, Sustainable Population Party, or Independent so long as my drift doesn't find its way to the two right-wing parties - but how can I be sure?

Posted Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 05:15

And who exactly does matter as in,  "Don’t offend anyone who matters.” Those who own or control the Media output, can afford it.

its always been that way, its how we went to war, in WW1.

The Media for and on behalf of the Landed Gentry told us that it was for freedom and Democracy, protecting our way of life. Waffle, Waffle.


In actual fact it was for:

                 Taxpayers Pick Up The Tab For Business

By Sarah Lumley and Jim Crosthwaite

If Public Private Partnerships are meant to take risk off the government's hands, then why does the public end up paying for them? Economists Jim Crosthwaite and Sarah Lumley on the patchy history of joint projects

- See more at: http://www.newmatilda.com/2013/07/24/taxpayers-pick-tab-business#sthash.HGJYYVW4.dpuf


Whats chaged from 1788, nothing. Most of our so called Noble classes that graces place names etc were all corrupt crooks who feathered their own nests. So, thinks really haven't changed any here, different names etc. same rorting. Look at Peter Reith, phone card scandal, now on THe Drum and still talking tripe.

We sent our entire Gene pool to 2 wars so that our Landed gentry could remain the 3rd richest in the world and we failed at that despite the stupid carnage. Our export market England went broke, lost Empire status to the Yanks and we subsidised our crooks for the next 25 years until they could sell up and or get out.

So why are we still talking about it, we never learned nothing last time. They gave us a Hero Parade we had to fight to get and all is foriven. Inside underwear issue is all we get excited about.

Posted Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 23:24

Both Rudd and Abbott make my skin crawl and before everyone says you don't for a PM - I'm not voting for a Prime Minister - I'm voting for the policies and team chosen to implement those policies.

My first choice was the exceptional Julia Gillard and her quality team. They all left the room once the nauseating Rudd returned. Beats me why anyone finds Rudds false smiles and affectations appealing. Perhaps its because Abbotts more unpalatable. Labor and Liberal are taking Australia backwards. Neither of these mongrels deserve unbridled power.

Anything decent recently implemented for all Australians has been achieved by the intelligent, feminine, interesting Julia Gillard.

Let the polls swing all over the place. Labor has lost my vote in every way. I and many others intend to vote for the Green, Independents or other and hope we have a more representative hung parliament. Then we can all watch Rudd and Abbott or whoever; sell their souls to form parliament and attempt to govern as the brilliant Gillard governed.

The good news is we'll get rid of one of them and if Australia is really lucky we'll see off both Rudd and Abbott.

Time for real change.

Don't believe the major parties or  media bias - importantly a hung parliament is more representative of Australia.

The available choices are so E-grade - eg Rudd or Abbott, Albanese or Bishop, Bowen or Hockey...........excellence has left the room, that is, Gillard, Combet, Roxon, Garret, Swan, Windsor, Oakeshott....and the rest.

Right now our country is being controlled by the schoolyard bullies - privately, corporately and politically. You all know who they are - get rid of them. 


Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 04:59



Anything decent recently implemented for all Australians has been achieved by the intelligent, feminine, interesting Julia Gillard.


She cried infront of the Yanks and said absurd tripe, like. "America saved my Country."  

What Country, Britain or Aust., saved it how. The American's sent England broke. It didn't save England from the nasty Germans because the Germans like George the 1st were already running the place and had presumably done a reasonable job.


My point is, she waffled on about education, yet for a Prime Minister she was a Historical Illiterate, she advocates spending tax money to train the next lot of Historians when the last lot were nothing but belly crawling liars, like James Bryce "The Historian Who Sold Out."

If u don't know anything about history how could u possibly know why 100 million people got slaughtered between 1915 & 1945 just to make America the new Empire and send the old 1 broke. How could u possibly understand that and why America has 440 thousand avoidable deaths due to Heart disease and they spend 2.6 billion to try & fix the problem.

Yet 68 Americans mostly (brain dead Yanks in Unifroms) die every year due to terrorism & D Yanks spend 268 billion or so to supposedly fix that, a problem they created, yes they created because all of their friends some how become enemies..

Now if u don't know anything about History u would cry infront of the Yanks like a stupid, naive little girl and make stupid comments like, "the Americans were not the aggressors", when a young student says that The Great American Democracy is the only country to ever use the bomb to needlessly slaughter and maim millions, just to be the new Empire.

And u say she was great because she was a woman and so are u, and I bet ur also a Pom. 

So why do u really think she was great. Truth please.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Saturday, August 3, 2013 - 15:00


I sympathise greatly, living as I do in a safe Tory electorate. I am a swinging voter, but usually my vote finds its way to the ALP. Gillard made some serious mistakes, the most serious being taking notice of the short-term thinking 'pragmatists' in the ALP. Thus the series of blunders: dumping realistic action on climate change, pussy-footing round on immigration, playing the beholden tributary of the Indonesian Empire... The list goes on.

Beats me why anyone finds Rudds false smiles and affectations appealing.

I never have, and having just finished reading Kerri-Ann Walsh's excellent book The Stalking of Julia Gillard I am in a real quandary as to who to send my last preference to. The Greens would be a starter if they did not have such a hopeless open-the-doors immigration policy.

My inclination at the moment is to just write 'pass' on my ballot paper, and vote informal for the first time in my life.


Similar pitfalls could await the PNG Solution. A legal challenge to the policy here in Australia seems inevitable. International commentators are also beginning to view the deal with opprobrium: today, for instance, the editors of news wire service Bloomberg criticised the Rudd government for what it called a “dangerous new refugee policy” that they say will weaken international support for the UN Refugee Convention.

The Convention needs to go the way of the dodo in my opinion. If Rudd's manoevre helps it on that way, then so much the better. All it does is add pull to the pull factors already making Australia the preferred country for going to to claim asylum, and the seeking of permanent residency in. The bill all up for the PNG hosting those who use its provisions and hire people smugglers to ship them from Indonesia to this country will be in the order of $1 billion according to a news report read yesterday. (No wonder Rudd was soy coy about the cost of the PNG deal.)

How many people are involved in the PNG solution so far? A small number. And what does the cost work out at per asylum seeker? Heaps; probably millions. And could that money have been put to better use? The lawyers will disagree, but I would say 'you bet!'.

Bill poster
Posted Monday, August 5, 2013 - 13:42

Yes when the going gets hard withdraw from the Refugee Convention. I didn'y know the definition of a refugee/asylum seeker had changed so much. I thought they were just seeking escape from persecution.


What a gutless bunch. I don't know how those wanting to stick it to them would go if they were persecuted for their:

(a) religion

(b) ethnicity

(c) political conviction

(d) sexual orientation and a pile of other factors.

A refugee now is the same as a refugee in 1951. Persecution is persecuction regardless whether it occurs in 1951, 2013 or 81BC. This is what we have politicians and diplomats for, to solve these problems and seek international cooperation in doing so.


Rudd is a dud and I for one will be voting 1 Green. Labor is preferabel to the conservatives but there isn't much between them. Legal, political and diplomatic challenges await for either a Pacific Solution and/or a tow the boats back solution. Whoever stands for election in PNG offering to tear up the PNG solution wil probably win hands down and where will our policy be then. Idiots! You're right. It's policy on the run like the Malaysian Solution and the fact PNG are signatories might make small difference given their exclusions and provisos.


BTW I do't think the Greens have an open policy on borders or immigration. 30,000 refugees/asylum seekers is about right considering our immigration numbers are INXS of 200,00 and in some cases 300,000/annum - ridiculously high figures. I think it isthe major parties who have an open door policy on immigration as evidenced over the last 15-20 years and they both like a Big Australia too.

The cost of the PNG/Nauru/Manus island soluton will go through the roof and I don't think the Navy will take kindly to implementing the Stop the boats policy. A waste of skills revolving around fighting and war preparedness - unless Abbot intends to blow the boats out of the water it is essentially a civil, policing function.


Send both back to the drawing board.