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The legacy of Rudd Labor - and the challenge confronting Julia Gillard

By Tristan Ewins - posted Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Speculation had raged for weeks, yet still few seemed to have had warning of what was to come. Kevin Rudd - who once had been among the most popular Australian Prime Ministers ever - was removed in an internal coup d’etat: brutally, efficiently, suddenly. The impetus apparently came from the Victorian and New South Wales right-wing factions of the Australian Labor Party.

The Federal Australian Labor government had been taking hard blows in crucial areas for months; and a prolonged character assassination campaign against the Prime Minister was beginning to stick. Faced with a massive and unrelenting campaign by mining companies, and by large sections of the Australian media, Rudd sometimes appeared rattled or angry. Those wanting a pretext upon which to judge the Prime Minister felt the smears against his character were confirmed.

But the events of late June 2010 had been some time in coming.

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First there was a public-funded Home Insulation Program (HIP): intended to provide stimulus to ward off recession; but also to reduce energy consumption on heating, and thus ameliorate climate change. A creditable idea in its conception, the implementation, however, was poor. Many house fires ensued following the policy’s enactment, and four tradesmen died as a consequence of negligence on the part of the installation companies, and insufficient regulatory oversight. The government was thus discredited in the eyes of many in the electorate.

The government also came in for criticism for its failure to enact deep and effective legislation aimed at combating climate change.

Kevin Rudd laboured to the point of exhaustion at Copenhagen to achieve a solid international position to take on the threat of climate change. He also reached out to the conservative parties in Australia, but just when a compromise position seemed to have been consolidated the hard right of the Liberal and National parties revolted, with new leader Tony Abbott taking a hard line against reform.

Many Australians were confused by the complexity of the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS); and under Abbott the conservatives capitalised upon this confusion. Abbott made gross - but effective - simplifications, playing upon peoples’ fears, labelling the proposed CPRS “a great big tax on everything”.

The Australian Greens meanwhile proposed a simpler (and perhaps more effective) carbon tax. But, in what might have been a fateful decision, I believe Labor strategists concluded such a strategy would be too hard to sell.

Adam Morton, writing in The Age, observes that it was the right-wing factions of Labor who ultimately pressured Rudd to put-off action on a CPRS “until at least 2013”; and that those who clinically assassinated Rudd’s Prime Ministerial career, had themselves partly to blame for damage to “the Labor brand”. This was demonstrated at the time by a significant defection of Labor’s support base to the Greens.

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The final - and crucial - blow came in the form of Rudd’s confrontation with Australia’s powerful mining giants.

As I mentioned in an earlier article: Rudd’s proposed mining super-profits tax was both fair and sustainable. I emphasise again, following on from that, economics journalist Tim Colebatch has established that:

The Bureau of Statistics' recent round-up of industry data for 2008-09 estimates the profit margin in mining that year was 37.1 per cent. That's three times the industry average of 11.2 per cent … They're doing well.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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