And I’d say to state health bureaucrats and disgruntled State politicians and other opposition types, I think it’s time just to get out of the way of fundamental reform.

K Rudd 5 March 2010

What is striking about those “opposition types” or, as we used to say, “political opponents”, is that they now stretch right across the political class.

The panel on Insiders were bemused at Rudd’s political aggression towards the states, while noting the lack of policy detail in Rudd’s health plan. But this is all about a political attack, dressed up in the guise of a policy initiative. After all, if the issue here is about federal funding to make up for inadequate state revenue, Canberra could just give them more money like it did last year. The only real policy meat in the proposal is to take control off the states and give it to local boards, as Abbott wanted to do. This is above all a political attack on the states and it is that political attack that has made it such a popular proposal.

The general view in the media appears to be that Rudd has abandoned ‘cooperative federalism’ and followed Howard in his war on the states running up to the last election. But Rudd’s attack on the states this time is quite different. In 2007, Howard used the wall-to-wall Labor states to try and make a traditional political point about Labor’s inability to manage spending compared to the Coalition. In reality, either at the state level, or in Canberra under Rudd, there was no real difference in approach to government spending between the two parties. Howard was trying to make a political point that didn’t exist. So he left it open for Rudd to accuse of him merely playing politics and “the blame game”.

That was the real basis to Rudd’s cooperative federalism, namely that given the lack of real political difference in mainstream politics, the states and Canberra were unjustified doing anything else but cooperating. This applied as much to Liberal state governments as Labor. This is essentially the same point behind Rudd’s attacks now. He is taking advantage of unpopular state governments unable to make a political case why they should oppose power being taken away from them, other than wanting power for its own sake. Gillard on Friday morning’s Today made the point bluntly to Abbott:

If you want to back state Premiers on health, you do that. We’ll be backing the national interest.

Rudd and Gillard are campaigning against an arm of government. However, it is worth noting that they are also campaigning against the parties running them, including their own. Of course, this is not the first time state and federal governments on the same political side have fought each other in public. The difference this time is that Rudd is now challenging the state government’s right to do so.

Pretty well from the moment Rudd stepped out of Parliament House to meet the insulation employers to tell them, and everyone else, “he gets it”, the government has been slowly recovering the poise it lost following Copenhagen, Abbott’s anti-political attack and the insulation saga. Rudd’s political agenda that he used in 2007 is coming back into place. Empathy? Check. Anti-politics? Check. The only part he is still missing from what he had in 2007 is the international agenda that would give him the moral high ground and prevent his critics from accusing him of playing hollow political games as well. Without it he is vulnerable and forced to raise the levels of attack on any critics. Fortunately he has Obama’s visit at least in March to presumably play the traditional role US Presidents play for their Australian counterpart at this stage in the electoral cycle.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 8 March 2010.

Filed under Tactics

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5 responses to “Rudd: the anti-politics campaigner – 2010 edition”

  1. Michael on 8th March 2010 10:22 pm

    I think this is one case where your usually excellent analysis is too clever by half. It all makes sense – if you ignore the political reality that the referendum is an empty threat: it just won’t get up and could even depress the government’s vote if it’s held in conjunction with the next election.

    It’ll go the same way as the ETS. As Brian Toohey said on Insiders, Rudd’s *real* problem is that he’s pretty ordinary at policy-making – but thinks he’s a genius at it.

  2. Cavitation on 9th March 2010 8:50 am

    I am surprised at how political parties have been adopting policies at odds to their traditional support groups. The Liberals have now proposed a tax increase on large businesses to fund expanded maternity leave provisions, and have changed their minds on supporting a market based Emissions Trading Scheme, which business was on board with. Delaying the adoption of the ETS will work against business interests since a future adoption will be less generous to business interests as the increasingly serious consequences of global warming become apparent, and the alternative, government regulation, will not suit business at all. Business interests used to be the Liberal party’s core supporters, but now they are being downgraded to allow the Liberal party to adopt populist positions instead.

    Similarly, the Labor party’s core support comes from trade unions. Trade unions have declined and nowadays mainly only exist within the public service. The states mostly have Labor governments, which are made up of public service trade unionists administering the public service in a closed circle. The states are more and more being governed to benefit their public servants in preference to the interests of the general public.

    The Federal Labor party has been willing to fight against some of the excesses of the states, for example by adopting some eduction reforms for a national curriculum or to publish some statistics about educational outcomes of schools. This is mitigating some of the excesses of the public service union / state Labor government closed ecosystem. The Rudd government is now moving to intervene in the hospital system as they did in a minor way with the eduction system.

    It is interesting to consider why they want to do so. It can mitigate people’s disillusionment with public service institutions such as schools and hospitals; institutions that devote too many resources to their employees and insufficient to their clients. Cynically, it will mean that resources from the trade unions involved will move across from state Labor parties to the federal party. Finally, it is easy for the Rudd government to do. Since Labor party is so heavily interfaced with these institutions, the changes involved can be managed more easily. It would be much riskier for the Labor party to try to reform an institution that it does not influence so heavily.

  3. James on 9th March 2010 12:11 pm

    It will be interesting to see how Abbott’s maternity leave “policy” will play out for him. While it’s a populist policy that may appeal to many families, one has to wonder if it would end up as a non-core promise if an Abbott Government was elected. It’s not a good sign for Abbott that he acted without consulting big business or his party room. Also how can he oppose the ETS for being “a great big new tax” and then campaign with a “great big new tax” of his own? How do you think this will play out for him, Shrike? This “policy” may be give Abbott some initial traction but I think it will ultimately be a windfall for the government when the detail is examined and splits in the Coalition party room emerge over the issue. Furthermore, this “policy” will hardly encourage big business to donate to the Coalition.

  4. Riccardo on 9th March 2010 8:56 pm

    He needs to stick a real referendum question on the 2010 ballot paper. Abolish the states!

    In Taiwan they stuck the referendum question “Do you want to stop China pointing 600 missiles at us?” next to the choice of which President you wanted. Hard to vote against that! Symbolic of course; the missiles haven’t gone.

  5. The Piping Shrike on 10th March 2010 9:12 am

    Michael, I’m not saying that Rudd’s agenda will necessarily work, I’m just saying what it is (it’s a pretty predictable formula!) I think both sides are vulnerable which is why the balance can swing so sharply between the two sides.

    Having said that I’m not that convinced that the referendum will be a no goer. Most referendums fail in Australia because they are usually about giving more power to politicians, never popular. In this case, Rudd could argue that it is more about taking power away. Anyway I’m not sure the states would want to let it get to that. Either way, it’s still a volatile situation.

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