Friends, tomorrow the work begins. Australia’s long-term challenges demand a new consensus across our country. I’m determined to use the office of prime minister to forge that consensus.

I want to put aside the old battles of the past: the old battles between business and unions, the old battles between growth and the environment, the old and tired battles between federal and state. The old battles between public and private.

K Rudd 24 November 2007

It will be some time before the significance of Rudd’s highly revealing victory speech becomes apparent. The basis of what he was saying hinged on his idea of a new consensus. Andrew Bolt got this 100% wrong on Insiders when he said Rudd was doing me-tooism with Hawke on this. Rudd’s consensus is utterly different from Hawke’s. Hawke was about ending the divide between business and the unions by bringing them together on economic reform. Rudd is ending the divide between business and the unions by saying it no longer exists. This is getting closer to what Workchoices was really about. It was not about business attacking the unions, business didn’t need Workchoices and hardly used AWAs. It was about the previous government filling in a gaping hole in its programme. The ending of Workchoices will have little impact on the industrial relations landscape as it had little impact on it in the first place. It will, however, formally lay to rest an IR debate that in reality died years ago.

There is a similarity with how the Labor leadership will treat IR as to how they will treat indigenous affairs, especially the promised ‘apology’. Rudd’s view on indigenous affairs does not see an apology for the stolen generation as part of building a new national identity. It would be more accurate to say that Rudd is doing it to clear the decks. On issues like the republic and the dubious project of writing a new racial constitution, Rudd shares little appetite for the national identity project shown by his Labor predecessors and much of the current party. He more sees it as a technocratic issue, rather than a political one. Again, any apology would be more to bury the issue than to make it central to the political project of a Rudd government.

On the environment, again it will seem Rudd is carrying out policy agreed by the party but the content of what he is doing will not be what the party is expecting. The Greens did better than expected in this election as Labor’s campaign stepped back from emphasising issues like climate change that would have eroded the Liberals’ heartland. However, the dynamic still looks unfavourable for the Greens. Their problem is that what have until now been mainly local issues (like the Tamar pulp mill) are in the process of becoming a single global one of climate change. The Greens’ structure, based on local organising, will look increasingly irrelevant to something that is becoming the language of diplomats. More importantly, while the Greens agenda is often in open conflict with business, the global warming agenda is much less so, as business is reasonably comfortable with its call for austerity and restraint. This is the basis for Rudd to talk about ending the conflict between business and the environment and why businessmen like Murdoch have become converts to the issue.

This links to the last, and probably most unnerving conflict that Rudd wants to end, that between public and private. What exactly does Rudd mean by this? It would be a conflict that many people would be happy with. Yet what is noticeable in the climate change agenda and the ads Labor was running before the election on the web, is how intrusive into daily lives it can get. The sort of moralising seen by rock stars around the world has gone to government level in Australia, and Garrett has an important role to play. Despite his gaffes, he is still likely to have a key role, whatever his portfolio.

Having spent most of the year ignoring the fragmentation of the coalition, the media is focussing on it just when it has become irrelevant. Of more interest now is the transformation of the Labor party that had been moving in fits and starts over the year but is now speeding up as Rudd consolidates power. The real battle is between Rudd and his party that will be disguised by him carrying out Labor’s stated goals, abolishing Workchoices, ratifying Kyoto and apologising for the stolen generation, but removing or changing their significance as he does so. For eleven years, most of the party has been ignoring the way these debates have changed by hiding behind Howard-hating. With the focus of their energies now gone, they are looking rather exposed.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 27 November 2007.

Filed under State of the parties

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