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The Rudd factor

By Chris Lewis - posted Monday, 30 August 2010

Much will be written about why Labor performed so badly at the 2010 federal election.

Some will argue Labor did not benefit from dumping Rudd, that disloyalty affected Gillard’s campaign, and that Rudd’s axing cost Labor many votes in Queensland.

Others will cite the Cabinet leaks that occurred during the second and third week of the election campaign.


But Labor’s poor showing owes much to the performance of the Rudd Labor government which proved disappointing with many of its policy actions and promises either unrealistic, unfulfilled or a waste of valuable resources.

Sure there were some important achievements, although many are overstated.

Fred Argy (“Rudd’s achievements”, Club Troppo, May 3, 2010) prepared a list, of which I have added my own comments and further detail from another article (“Rudd and Gillard’s achievements, stuff-ups and unfinished business”, Herald Sun, July 16, 2010). His achievements were:

  • rescuing the economy from the global financial crisis (although significant resources were wasted);
  • limiting real spending growth to 2 per cent a year (although Commonwealth debt is now predicted to increase from $18 billion to $174 billion between 2007-08 and 2011-12);
  • a resources rent tax on mining (although implemented without adequate consultation which resulted in the minerals sector waging a PR campaign before PM Gillard defused the situation by lowering the rate of tax);
  • greater transparency in superannuation arrangements (including inappropriate financial advice and a stop to commissions);
  • improved education with a national curriculum to deliver consistent course-work in English, maths, science and history; and 300,000 extra computers in classrooms and new school libraries - although one million were promised by 2011 for every student in years 9-12;
  • investment in social housing (to build 20,000 units);
  • tempering the Howard government’s workplace reform;
  • an apology to Aborigines and some gains in combating Aboriginal poverty;
  • a review of the qualifying age for the age pension to 67 years;
  • increasing pension payments with single pensions rising by $30 a week and the couple pension by $10 a week in 2009;
  • cutbacks in salary sacrifice for superannuation e.g. reducing the cap from $100,000 to $50,000;
  • My School website to give parents detailed information on student performance in reading, writing, grammar and numeracy;
  • implementing the Paid Parental Leave Scheme with a taxpayer-funded 26-week paid parental leave scheme at the minimum wage;
  • the reforming of bank regulation e.g. on bank capital;
  • youth allowance provision;
  • new investment in public hospitals, GP and Superclinics (although Labor’s promise to build 31 (then 36 and then 59) resulted in just 12 taking patients by July 2010);
  • addressing the plight of homeless people;
  • investment in nation building infrastructure (including the National Broadband Network);
  • investment in jobs and training, although the nurses recruiting scheme failed with just 1,000 accepting a $6,000 cash bonus to return to work despite the Rudd government promising to recruit 7,750 retired nurses. Further, while 2,650 secondary schools were promised trades training centres, just 24 were completed by July 2010;
  • fairer and more sustainable private health insurance and incentives (although a broken election promise).

At his final press conference as PM, Rudd also noted 50,000 more university places and greater investment in research; a policy to build 20 regional cancer centres; a National Organ Transplant Authority; signing the Kyoto Protocol; boosting the renewable energy target to 20 per cent; and a Murray Basin Authority and a basin-wide plan and a basin-wide cap on water.

But the Rudd government’s record had many negatives. This does not merely refer to the major policy reversals during early 2010, especially the emissions trading scheme (ETS) and ditching an earlier promise to build 260 childcare centres by reducing the number to 38.


Rather, the Rudd government’s record must also be judged on what was promised and not delivered; Rudd’s control of the policy agenda and failure to negotiate; Rudd’s rhetorical rejection of the past when his government was hardly different; and even his public outbursts of anger.

While pressure on Rudd mounted soon after major policy backdowns, especially the ETS, the government as a whole was to blame. After all, Labor elected Rudd as leader and concern amongst the party only surfaced with declining public support after a Newspoll (early May 2010) indicated Labor’s primary vote was only 35 per cent while the Coalition led 51-49 in two-party preferred terms (Matthew Franklin and Patricia Karvelas, “Party warns PM Kevin Rudd: no more U-turns”, The Australian, May 11, 2010).

Until May 2010, Rudd had an enormous appeal. Newspoll indicated that Labor still led the Coalition 56-44 in late March 2010 on a two-party preferred basis.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, 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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