Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Kevin Rudd now faces in John Brumby the most intense challenge to his political authority and policy credentials from within the Labor Party since he became Prime Minister. This challenge penetrates to the heart of Rudd’s re-election strategy.
Paul Kelly The Australian 14 April
That Rudd was facing the strongest opposition for his health plan from state leaders within his own party was supposed to mean that this was a grave political test for the Prime Minister. Either that, or the complete opposite. It could have showed how little political content there really was in the argy-bargy we have seen over the last few weeks. Even Colin Barnett, whose opposition probably comes more from a Liberal leader keen to try and show what being Liberal actually means these days, had no real problem with the plan, and certainly not spending more on hospitals, which Liberals sometimes used to oppose. Of course, Rudd’s plan could have led to a split in the Labor party, given that giving control to local boards by-passes state health unions, which is why the right, like Abbott, have traditionally argued for it. But that doesn’t seem to be such an issue in the ALP these days
Rudd himself seemed to unintentionally diminish what was at stake on The 7.30 Report last night by saying Barnett’s opposition was really about nothing more than an ‘accounting device’, i.e. insisting on the state’s ownership of GST monies that would have been spent on hospitals anyway. But isn’t taking control of those monies off the states what the whole plan was supposed to be about? In fact, Rudd has helped to turn it into an ‘accounting device’ by not even opposing Brumby’s call for the states to decide how such monies would be allocated to the local boards. What on earth has all this been about?
Lenore Taylor got closer to the point on Insiders calling it more a fight over states’ rights than health funding. But this was one with a difference, given that, WA apart, opposition didn’t come from the traditional culprits like Queensland, but those that are usually more in tune with the federal agenda, Victoria and NSW.
In reality this was no so much about states’ rights than the states’ right to exist. Essentially Rudd wrapped a big boost to health funding up in a political agenda that called the states’ right to exist into question. It is the difficulty of responding to that question, which has especially become an issue for the large states that can’t hide behind a phoney regionalism like, say, Queensland does, that has been the source of that ‘crisis’ that the media has been feeding off for the last few weeks.
No doubt Rudd needed a deal to address the drift that has been perceptible since Copenhagen, but never as much as the media suggested. Certainly the referendum threat was not as hollow as some like Shanahan claim. There was a good chance it could have carried for the same reason that so many have lost in the past; it would have been about taking power away from the political class much as past ones were about giving it to them. However, there would have been a potential for things to get out of control given the political sensitivity of what was at stake, which was what drove all parties to compromise at the end. And it is precisely the same reason, of Rudd putting his anti-political finger on the hollowness of Australian political life, that the federal Liberals will also be forced to go along, no matter how much they might want to “take the fight up to the government”.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 21 April 2010.Filed under State of the parties