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Kevin Rudd: Australia’s champion prime minister of rhetoric

By Chris Lewis - posted Wednesday, 4 February 2009


In a previous On Line Opinion article (September 16, 2008), I noted the level of intellectual dishonesty displayed by Kevin Rudd with his rhetorical attack on a supposed mean spirited Howard in an article titled “Howard’s Brutopia” (The Monthly, November 2006).

Since September 2008, Rudd has adopted considerable reforms that have upheld Labor’s policy platform: a minimalist (yet important) shift towards carbon trading to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, targeting vulnerable groups in a bid to boost consumption with $21.5 billion given to pensioners, families, and low-to-middle income earners in two packages (latest February 3, 2009), and increasing resources for public education and health.

But now Rudd - who is fond of telling us how Australia is in a better position to deal with the current crisis without giving credit to the Howard government’s elimination of Commonwealth debt - is guilty of another massive fib. In his Australia Day Citizenship address (January 26, 2009), Rudd declared:

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… this great global crisis is not of Australia’s making, but as Australians we are left to deal with it … The causes of this crisis are complex. But ultimately they go to a set of values that are the very antithesis of our own. Values of unrestrained greed, encouraged by an ideology of unfettered markets. Nothing of courage and certainly nothing of concern or compassion for others, or the consequences of their actions.

Further, in the February 2009 issue of The Monthly, Rudd reportedly calls for immense policy change after 30 years of neoliberalism “with its flawed brand of free-market fundamentalism” which culminated in the current global financial disaster which he believes represents the ultimate expression of “extreme capitalism and excessive greed”.

Such arguments are flawed. Australian governments (including Labor) and voters embraced such policy decisions in recent decades because they believed that it was necessary to uphold both national and international economic goals. And if US consumption (more than 25 per cent of world GDP in 2007) had not been boosted by debt (and even sub-prime lending), then Australia may not have enjoyed the same level of economic growth in recent years.

In other words, Australia owes much of its standard of living to policies that fuelled the growth of the international economy in recent decades. Without appropriate reform in line with the changing demands of the international economy, Australia may not have been ranked 4th out of 179 countries by the 2008 United Nations’ Human Development Index based on 2006 data in regards to education enrolment, adult literacy levels, per capita GDP, and life expectancy.

And with Rudd now calling for government to be the regulator of the financial sector and “funder or provider of public goods” as government “offsets the inevitable inequalities of the market with a commitment to fairness for all”, where was Rudd’s concern about the greater role being played by the private sector when cutting the size of the public sector in Queensland when working for the Goss Labor government?

No, Rudd would never admit his own contradictions as he sought to be all things to all people prior to the 2007 federal election. After all, Rudd (a supposed social democrat) even bragged of being a fiscal conservative unwilling to rock the boat with grander levels of spending as Labor reaffirmed its commitment to keep taxes and spending at a similar level of GDP.

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In other words, it was only when Australia’s economy was threatened by the current financial and economic crisis that Rudd abandoned much of his support for the economic status quo (besides a greater commitment to infrastructure): although he hoped that a booming non-democratic China would help Australia escape the looming crisis. As if.

So what are the solutions? According to Rudd one answer is to adopt greater financial market regulation. No doubt that such a measure will be introduced in the nations that need such reform, particularly the US. It is called common sense: sensible nations must make important adjustments as they seek to balance competitiveness and compassion.

There is also a need to do something about the obscene wages given to some “superior” individuals. After all, the former prime minister Howard also expressed disgust at the pay levels of CEOs, which in the US averaged $10.5 million in 2007 for the 500 largest corporations (some 344 times the pay of typical US workers).

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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All articles by Chris Lewis

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