Abbott is convinced he is on a winner. His thinks his line that Labor’s Emissions Trading Scheme is a “big new tax on everything” has struck a chord.
Encouraged by an opinion poll boost, Abbott is systematically embracing Howard’s policies—the 1950s view of women, WorkChoices, turning refugee boats around at sea and extending punitive welfare quarantining to all beneficiaries.
His rise in the opinion polls is a worry, though the polls show that the Liberal primary vote is still well below its losing effort in 2007. But to understand Abbott’s rise, we need to look at Kevin Rudd.
In June last year, history professor Greg Melleuish wrote, “Rudd has been many things in the few years since he entered the public spotlight. He has been a good Christian, a fiscal conservative, a good bloke and a social-democratic true believer. He has the capacity to shed his skin and acquire a new one as circumstances change… Rudd is Australia’s first post-modern Prime Minister.”
Rudd certainly wants to give the appearance of taking on the big issues.
But what happened to the education revolution? Public education needs more teachers and more funding, but Rudd offered (and hasn’t delivered) a laptop for every student. He introduced the MySchool web site and NAPLAN tests to create competitive league tables.
Rudd described climate change as the “great moral challenge of our generation”. A year ago, in his essay in The Monthly, Rudd favourably quoted Sir Nicholas Stern’s comment that climate change is “the greatest market failure in human history.” But the market is at the centre of the CPRS, which would hand hundreds of millions of dollars to the big polluters and coal bosses. As soon as the Liberals stalled the legislation, Rudd put climate change on the back burner.
Similarly, the house insulation fiasco has rattled Rudd. He thought the scheme would kill two birds with one stone—look like he was doing something about climate change and boost a shovel-ready industry as a short-term response to the global financial crisis.
But there are doubts about the effectiveness of house insulation as an energy saving measure. The $2.45 billion dollars spent could have built five solar power stations, each able to power to 45,000 homes.
But it was the short-term appearance that mattered to Rudd. Even the job creation element lies in ruins—scrapping the scheme may cost up to 2000 jobs.
Now, Rudd has made another big announcement—hospitals will be taken over by the federal government. Rudd told a press conference, “This Australian Government is going to get on with the business of fundamental health and hospital reform.”
But the scheme has all the hallmarks of Rudd’s other failures. It won’t even come into effect until well after the next election.
Real health reform means more beds, more nurses, more doctors, more funding, but all that’s on offer is re-shuffling the deck chairs of health administration.
There will be no new money for hospitals for the next four years. Worse, Rudd is proposing that hospital funding will be based on the economic rationalist case-mix funding—paying hospitals at a nationally set “efficiency price” per service.
This is the funding scheme that has directly led to the shocking state of hospitals in Victoria and Queensland. Under-funded federal hospitals will be no better than under-funded state ones.
Despite his talk about “making a difference”, Rudd is unwilling to challenge the status quo or disturb the pampered existence of the establishment.
In his Monthly essay, Rudd quoted George Soros on the financial crisis: “the crisis is not caused by an some external shock…the crisis was generated by the system itself.” Soros was right, Rudd declared, but he has shown no inclination to do anything about the system.
A year ago, he railed against the bonuses paid to the Wall Street bankers: “these are epic numbers generated by a greed of epic proportions,” he wrote. But Rudd has done nothing about Australia’s profiteering banks. This year, Westpac’s top 15 executives got an average of $3.3 million, while the Commonwealth’s executives got an average of $4 million. The average bank worker’s pay is $40,000.
Real reform of the education system will rely on teachers defending public education and banning NAPLAN tests. Genuine hospital reform will need nurses’ unions and doctors to fight for more jobs and more funding. The climate campaign will need to fight for the government to build renewable power stations. Unions need to fight the anti-union laws (see page 24).
Until that happens, Abbott’s popularity will grow while Rudd pulls Labor further and further to the right.