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Rudd's manifesto - neoliberalism and the pulp mill

By Peter Henning - posted Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Quite simply, on the basis of the whole approval process, which deliberately excluded examination of any social, environmental or economic costs within the state, and any examination of wood supply issues, the pulp mill is a classic example of the kind of neoliberalism Rudd condemns. The failure of Gunns and the Lennon government to accept the legitimacy of a cost-benefit analysis in all its dimensions is a perfect exemplar of neo-liberal political action, which in Rudd’s words, “rejects the legitimacy of altruistic values that go beyond direct self-interest”.

The time has come to forge a new coalition of political forces across the Australian community, uniting those who are disturbed by market fundamentalism in all its dimensions and who believe that the country is entitled to a greater vision than one which merely aggregates individual greed and self-interest.

This is the concluding statement in Kevin Rudd’s essay, “Howard’s Brutopia”, published in the magazine The Monthly, in November 2006, just weeks before he and Julia Gillard launched their successful challenge against Kim Beazley for leadership of the federal Labor Party.


Rudd’s essay is a powerful and sustained intellectual attack on the neoliberalism of Howard’s government, in which he argues that Howard has deserted the basic principles of social justice that were part and parcel of the Australian Right since the time of the Deakinite Liberals at the beginning of 20th century, “variously dominated by old-style conservatives or social liberals: Deakin, Menzies, Fraser, Peacock and others. All supported the social welfare state as a form of social insurance and an institutional corrective against market fundamentalism.”

The essay can be seen as a sort of Rudd manifesto, an outline to the Australian public - and to his party and caucus colleagues - of his bedrock political beliefs that would underpin the future direction of the ALP under his leadership.

He set himself in complete contrast with Howard, stating that the “real battle of ideas in Australian politics today (is) the battle between free-market fundamentalism and the social-democratic belief that individual reward can be balanced with social responsibility”.

At a time when he was - in hindsight - clearly positioning himself to replace Beazley as Labor leader, and had already impressed his colleagues with an extremely strong parliamentary performance in relation to the AWB scandal, Rudd was staking a claim to moral authority in an Australia lost in the desert of Howard’s neo-liberal experiment, in which “neo-liberals reject the legitimacy of altruistic values that go beyond direct self-interest”.

Rudd’s time had come, not on the basis of “it’s the economy stupid”, but on the assertion of a return to moral integrity in politics, of a return to social democratic values in terms he frames carefully as “the allocation of resources in pursuit of equity (particularly through education), solidarity and sustainability (because they) assist in creating the human, social and environmental capital necessary to make the market economy function effectively”.

Rudd wrote “Howard’s Brutopia” on the back of an earlier essay, “Faith in Politics” (The Monthly, October 2006), which is, in part, a tribute to the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis in 1945 for his role in the plot to assassinate Hitler during World War II.


For Rudd, “Bonhoeffer is, without doubt, the man I admire most in the history of the twentieth century”, and in so saying he is applauding a politically engaged Christianity, and stating his own Christian values, as he wishes the public to see them. “The proper relationship between Christianity and politics in the modern world” is to identify the “voiceless”, taking as a core principle Bonhoeffer’s positive activism that “must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed”.

Rudd places Bonhoeffer at the centre of progressive social democratic tradition, in which Christian socialists based political action on an informed ethical framework, which valued “equity, community and sustainability” as fundamental.

In identifying the voiceless, Rudd says this in relation to the environment and specifically climate change:

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This is an edited version of an article first published in the Tasmanian Times on December 6, 2007. The full article can be read here.

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About the Author

Peter Henning is a former teacher and historian. He is a former Tasmanian olive grower, living in Melbourne.

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