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Rudd puts a different kind of economic future on the cards

By Nicholas Gruen - posted Friday, 22 December 2006


For those lucky enough to receive it, this year’s Christmas card from Kevin Rudd looks both backward and forward. The back of the card describes Rudd as the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security. That was a long time ago - what’s that they say about a week in politics?

But the design of the card offers a portent of the future. It’s drawn by Georgia Cupples. Should you know her? Probably not. She’s a student at St Josephs Catholic Primary School which (I presume) is in Rudd’s electorate. It’s a nice drawing of Brisbane with the Gabba and the Story Bridge as the chief landmarks.

Putting Georgia’s design on his card is good PR. But it’s also a clue to a broader political strategy in a cynical and policy weary electorate at least as hungry for leadership on “values” leadership as policy. One of Rudd’s themes in this struggle for Australian hearts and minds is self help at the community level and the politician’s role as social entrepreneur.

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As he observed in an interview earlier this year:

There is a great opportunity for any member of parliament at any level of government throughout the country to become a community entrepreneur. What do I mean by that? Work within market structures or normal local community structures to achieve social outcomes that benefit the community … I think we’ve got on our side of politics, a dual responsibility to work locally as an entrepreneur to achieve community outcomes using the resources available and then to work separately and simultaneously at a policy level to try and achieve outcomes through a change of government and overall national policy.

In describing how he acted as go-between between various parties to rescue 800 jobs by saving a local abattoir from closure, Rudd illustrates the role of the politician as social entrepreneur. That’s not new, though within the cynical culture of party politics today, the experience clearly came as something of a revelation for Rudd.

He comments on how the old timers in his branch used to greet newcomers to the neighbourhood with a box of groceries on the back step - compliments of the local ALP branch. It was good PR and good politics. Just like Rudd’s Christmas card.

This approach offers a powerful force of renewal for politics. Rudd’s local social entrepreneurship has presumably been part of his remarkable success in extending his winning margin in each election he’s fought.

But if it can be used to extend his margin of incumbency, it’s even more important from the perspective of an opposition seeking office. Doing rather than saying is a much better way to demonstrate what one stands for and to capture the attention of the media and the imagination of the electorate in a cynical age.

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Self help politics can be taken further - beyond local social entrepreneurialism and into national policy itself.

Here’s an example. With ballooning trade and payments deficits it would be prudent for Australians to save more. But people’s hip pocket nerves being what they are, politicians find it easier to talk about the need for more saving than they do restraining consumption.

Enter default superannuation.

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First published in The Age on December 19, 2006.



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About the Author

Dr Nicholas Gruen is CEO of Lateral Economics and Chairman of Peach Refund Mortgage Broker. He is working on a book entitled Reimagining Economic Reform.

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