Talking the talk, walking the walk

By Legal Eagle

The more I see, the more I’m disappointed with KRudd’s government. I confess that I had high hopes at the start, which was probably a mistake. One should never invest politicians with hope.

There were a few things that really worried me from the start about the government – the love of “spin” over substance was the main thing. Basically I’m a deeply practical person. Symbolism can be important (as Noel Pearson has argued) but if it’s not followed by real practical change I get irritated. Big symbolic gestures are ultimately pretty hollow if there isn’t anything backing them up.

From my point of view, the first serious disappointment was the reaction of the KRudd government to the insulation scandal. As I said at the time, I was deeply distressed that Garrett tried to pass the buck on the deaths of workers, and it seemed to be contrary to the history and origins of the Labor party. Yes, the greedy installers were to blame too, but the system was set up in such a way as to allow rorting to take place, and it wasn’t remedied even when the government was advised of the risks. Wasn’t the point of the Labor movement to protect workers from unscrupulous employers?

Then there was the school building stimulus package which had also been set up in such a way that it could be rorted, but again no one had done anything. I must confess that when KRudd started going on about coming in and taking over the hospital system, I wondered whether his government could be trusted, or would they just hurriedly set up another system which had a creditable aim, but which allowed people to rort it?

Added to that, there was the about-turn on the ETS. Now, I must confess that I was never convinced that the ETS would be the best option. I note that the EU carbon trading scheme has been beset with allegations of widespread fraud and corruption. On this one, I felt that perhaps a carbon tax might be the better course of action (such that companies had to pay the real costs of fuel consumption). Contrary to most lefties of my acquaintance, as I said at the time, I wondered if we should wait until Copenhagen to see what everyone else did, because there’s no point making a gesture and causing the Australian populace a lot of pain if we’re the only country in the world to do it and the practical impact on global emissions is therefore minimal. (Personally, I think it’s overestimating our importance to think we’d provide any kind of example to other countries apart from New Zealand and Oceania, and even if they followed us, the impact would still be minimal. Nonetheless, something will have to give eventually with regard to fuel consumption.)

Still: if you say (as KRudd did) that climate change is  the “great moral challenge of our generation” and that action could not be delayed regardless of what other countries did, how can you suddenly turn around and put off doing anything? Which is of course, what the Rudd government just did. If you really believe something is a great moral challenge, you don’t just roll over like that. As they pointed out at LP, I wonder what little Gracie thinks of KRudd now?

And then there’s other U-turns, like the recent decision to run political advertising on the resources tax. Apparently it’s a state of emergency so that justifies running taxpayer funded advertising in favour of the resources tax.

Clearly policy is not being driven by what the government believes is best for us, it’s being driven by opinion polls. It’s all about style over substance, not principle. Let’s just throw money at things — it doesn’t matter if the scheme is hasty and provides incentives for shonky operators — as long as it looks like we’re doing something. The government won’t do anything which may be unpopular in the short term, but good for us in the long run — a symptom of the obsession with opinion polls.

Then there’s actions like expelling an Israeli diplomat for passport fraud. I saw this as a very cynical decision intended to dispel attention from other problems. (It’s always easy to have a go at the Jews and pander to prejudice. Poor Jews, they’re everyone’s favourite scapegoat.) And the decision to set up a hotline to “dob in an Asian” with respect to foreigners buying Australian property – even though data later revealed that there wasn’t a problem. That’s just dogwhistle stuff.

Anyway, I have to say that I sighed a huge cynical sigh when I saw the latest announcement in the newspaper:

The Rudd government will launch an international legal case against Japanese “scientific whaling” next week – but there is no guarantee even a successful action will stop whales being hunted in the Antarctic.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Japanese “scientific whaling” is a disgrace. There’s no way it’s scientific, it’s all about hunting whales for food. I don’t think they should be allowed to do it. But the question is whether this action is really undertaken because the government wants to stop Japanese scientific whaling. My suspicion is that it’s undertaken because they want to look good, and so that they can say they didn’t backtrack on at least one promise. It’s not initiated because they think they might actually achieve anything with it. I’m sure I’ll get people in comments saying, “Oh, but it’s important symbolically.” Hmmm, thinking like a lawyer, if we lose, it might actually backfire and convince the Japanese that their actions are legitimate and allowable.

I’m also sure I’ll get people saying in comments, “But the Liberals are worse.” The thing is that I naively thought these guys were better than that, and that they would act in a principled manner. This is why I have a real sense of betrayal and disappointment. Nonetheless, while I am very disappointed in the KRudd government (and have come to dislike KRudd intensely), I can’t countenance any of the alternatives.  For me, it’s a question of who I hate least. Gee, that’s a sad state to be in.


  1. Rafe
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    The Rudd government has perfomed precisely as well as should have been expected from a number of indicators. Starting with the gross mis-representation of Hayek’s philosophy which has persisted even after he had the opportunity to pick the best brains in the nation.

    The writing was on the wall in the pre-election debate when he anticipated a cost of about a dollar week per head for his climate policy. Thank the media for being mostly rusted on ALP supporters. And the solid support he got from the 18-30 yos.

  2. Posted May 30, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    For me, it’s a question of who I hate least. Gee, that’s a sad state to be in.

    Welcome to the perpetual problem for libertarians in our (primarily) two party system in Aus. I’m always stuck with voting for who I dislike the least.

    This year’s federal election will be difficult… not a fan of Tony Abbot as a social conservative but… Kevvy and his gang appear only fractionally less conservative and controlling of personal freedoms (internet filter is the top of mind example); whilst they have shown they want to have extensive control over, well, most everything.

    The RSPT and advertising campaign to counter that by the mining companies is just another example of the government changing the rules of the game to when it suits it and to help it (for what of a better word) “bully” through its policy.

    The other example that falls in to this category is the way the government went out of its way to improve the bargaining position of itself and NBN Co v Telstra.

    Not only did it threaten structural separation of Telstra and a hostile regulatory environment if Telstra didn’t play ball – it also threatened to cut Telstra off from access to new wireless spectrum. The attack on the mining industry and now the emergency authorisation of a new advertising campaign shouldn’t have come as a surprise for anyone who’d watched how the government set itself up to negotiate with Telstra.

    (Disclaimer: personal views only, not representative of my employer etc)

  3. lomlate
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I think it’s ridiculous to claim that the passport issue was anti-Semitic dog-whistling.

    Most people in punter land wouldn’t have even known it was going on, and it would have resulted in a definite strain on the ALP’s support amongst the jewish community.

    As far as I’m concerned there’s no evidence to suggest it was anything but a principled decision. The fact that you’re attacking it might go some way to showing why Rudd is so scared of making those at the moment…

  4. conrad
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I must admit to having much the same feelings about Krudd, and I’d even forgotten about the recent silly things you mentioned like the dob-in-an-Asian hotline, which was so irrelevant that even the media didn’t rub it in when the big survey showed it was actually just paranoia. No doubt much the same will happen with the whaling stuff once they lose on that also. Alternatively, I’m not sure booting the diplomat out was to deflect attention from other messes, since they had to do something (any record of when ASIO gave them the nod on that?). Alternatively, the whaling stuff, which came out at exactly the same time as Swan used public funds for government advertising in contradiction to their own policy, was much more cynically timed (and presumably they could release that whenever they felt like).

    I seem to remember somebody mentioning (can’t remember where) that Krudd is the approximate equivalent of John Major. In this respect, when I’m 80, I think I’ll still be able to remember Hawke, Keating, Howard, and some of the things they did (perhaps even Hewson also). Krudd, however, I think will be lucky to make it. He really is a dithering nothing man and it’ll be interesting to see how his possibly final role of the dice (the mining tax) turns out. I’ll bet he makes some compromise to appease the mining industry, but in such a way that what is left is a convoluted mess.

  5. heavykevvie
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    “picking on israel” ??? spare me. why did the mossad not use forged US passports? their are plenty of dual US ISRAEL citizens in the “holyland”. they know to not bite the hand that feeds them so well. as for the insulation deaths,look to the massive increase in home insulation and compare to fatalities in the industry before the scheme. i work on and in the roof. hammering on about the government being somehow responsible for deaths is just bullshit.

  6. Posted May 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has been sure that Brother Number One would be a disaster from before the 2007 election I have been amazed that that he has actually been worse than I expected.

    That said I do feel your pain at the way that things have turned out; my lefty friends and family members who were singing his praises in 2007 have become entirely silent about politics, it’s as if they hope that they will wake up and find the Rudd years were all just a bad dream.

  7. Posted May 30, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    The Canberra Press Gallery loved KRudd because
    (1) He had been duchessing them and feeding them juicy leaks for years
    (2) He was not John Winston Howard.
    He has been doing much less of (1) since he became PM and (2) so does not matter anymore.

    All first term governments have their missteps (MX crisis anyone?) but for those of us old enough to remember, the contrast with the Hawke Government is just really, really sad. Even then, Andrew Peacock gave them a bit of a fright in 1984: Tony Abbott looks likely to give them more than a bit of a fright and they will really deserve it.

  8. Posted May 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    The last ‘them’ should have been ‘the current mob’.

  9. Peter Patton
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Rather than John Major, dare I say Krudd is the Mark Latham we had to have?

  10. Posted May 30, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Clearly policy is not being driven by what the government believes is best for us, it’s being driven by opinion polls. It’s all about style over substance, not principle.

  11. lomlate
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    The rest of the post? Broadly true. I think a lot of the ‘scandals’ have been overplayed by the opposition, as is their right, but the whole ‘not standing for anything’ idea is correct.

    The insulation debacle? I’m not sure if I see it. Possum had some stats showing the incidence of house fires going down during the period the scheme ran.

    The ETS I think was a purely political decision. I think he does believe in an ETS but believes that there’s no point believing in one from opposition.

    The whaling was an election promise. I couldn’t care less about whaling but Rudd promised so I guess he should deliver? that decision is probably poll driven, like refugee policy is.

    The broader stuff about ‘wasted’ money I think is completely unfair. The idea was to get the money out ASAP so that it stimulated the economy. I think waste is a necessity in that. I think that it could have been done better if done slower, but that would defeat the purpose.

    The ads you are completely right: that is a total backflip and a real shame.

    So here I’m am defending all of Rudd’s policies you criticised and yet I still think you’re right.

    “Clearly policy is not being driven by what the government believes is best for us, it’s being driven by opinion polls. It’s all about style over substance, not principle.”

    That is correct. He has no vision. No idea for what he wants. He has no really big policies which he would love to institute if he could get past the senate. Rudd talked about future and ‘real leadership’ but the reality is that he is a managerial prime minister. He doesn’t want to actually DO anything, just keep things on course. If that is the way you run the country then spin is essential.

    I think the misconception is that Rudd is betraying his principles for the opinion polls. What’s clear now is that he has no principles to begin with. The ETS is perhaps the one exception to this and yet he still ran scared because he obviously doesn’t believe in it enough to fight for it. In a situation like that I’ll be surprised if Rudd even remains interested in the Prime MInistership for that much longer anyway.

    So am I disappointed? yes. Pretty much everyone in the Labor party hates Rudd. The alternative is Gillard who actually does have beliefs and vision. Troubles is I don’t think the electorate agrees with that vision.

  12. Peter Patton
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Not really sure what the pink batts were supposed to ‘get the economy out of’

  13. Posted May 30, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    The insulation debacle? I’m not sure if I see it. Possum had some stats showing the incidence of house fires going down during the period the scheme ran.

    Possum might yet discover that fires can occur even if the associate government program has been terminated.

    The broader stuff about ‘wasted’ money I think is completely unfair. The idea was to get the money out ASAP so that it stimulated the economy. I think waste is a necessity in that. I think that it could have been done better if done slower, but that would defeat the purpose.

    Or they could have stuck to rebates and tax cuts, which are more widely distributed and basically not amenable to rorting. Just a thought.

  14. lomlate
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure rebates aren’t amenable to rorting, as the insulation shows.

    Tax cuts would have been good, and they were provided, but with the building/insulation you at least get some school buildings out of it.

  15. davidp
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    They couldn’t even get Malcolm Turnbull’s ETS through the senate. No reasonable scheme was going to get up – wait for a new senate.

    The advertising back-flip is very disappointing.

  16. TerjeP (say Taya)
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    With tax cuts you at least get some tax cuts out of it. That’s the virtue of tax cuts. If they don’t stimulate the economy you still have the tax cuts. Tax cuts are great. I’d like a decent tax cut.

    I must admit I never liked Kevin Rudd. My instincts told me that he was fundamentally a dishonest person. However I didn’t expect him to be this inept because I also rated him as cunning. The sad thing is I think the ALP have some talent on their side but they are now expending their energies apologising and spinning to cover for the stupidity of the ALP leadership. Rudd isn’t just trashing the nation he is trashing the ALP.

  17. lomlate
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know much about rebates and i’m certainly not going to contradict you here, but if the aim of rebates is to increase the supply of the product, doesn’t that necessitate a rise in price?

    e.g. for housing, if house prices go up because of the rebate then that encourages people to build new houses because they make more money. Hopefully developments that might have not been economical become economical and thus supply is increased.

    Is that completely out of the ball park? I’m not sure.

  18. Patrick
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    As someone who saw Rudd’s election and what it would be like both coming like a runaway train, I’m sorry to say that the schadenfreude is a lot less satisfying than I had hoped.

    As for the case against Japan, can a Ruddite tell me what upside there might possibly be?? First, allowing the ICJ possibly more respect than it deserves, Japan will trounce us – the hardcore anti-whaling position is a traduction of the relevant legal conventions the point of which was sustainability, not, no matter how hard some might wish it, eradiction. Second, we are pissing off one of the precious few genuine ‘good guys’ around the world – a largely free-market, pro-democracy, pro-peace, rich country that happens to be one of our five biggest trading partners. Third, what if we actually won? The word Pyrrhic just seems to follow so naturally – what are we going to do, impound Japanese ships??

    Finally, don’t we have better things to spend time and money on?

  19. TerjeP (say Taya)
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    LE – not just silly but positively destructive of welfare. It is like pouring poison in the well whilst claiming that you are clorinating the water to make us healthier. They are slowly destroying our society and like a frog in slowly warming water we just take it. Silly is far too soft a statement.

  20. TerjeP (say Taya)
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    The paradox of childcare. I used to go to parent meetings where we were told:-

    1. We are holding down fees to help parents.
    2. We have long waiting lists of parents who would like us to provide a place.
    3. Please sign this petition to government for higher rebates.

    Clearly demand was stronger than supply at the price they were charging but instead of raising the price they were lobbying government for financial assistance.

    It is inefficient to have households out sourse child care if they can’t in turn earn enough to pay the market rate for the service. The tariffs on interhoushold trade (eg income taxes) provide a counter argument but this argument applies as readily to financial services, cleaning services, food preparation services, repair and maintenence services etc as it does to child care. If families are struggling then reduce the burden of government.

  21. Posted May 31, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Legal E, as you know (I’ll spare you the link wh8ring given I used several posts to implode on this topic) Rudd Inc’s recent conduct brought concerns I’d had with the party to a head, at an exponential rate, to the point where I felt I was being dishonest to stay in the party.

    The fact that I know they barely care, in terms of losing members to gain perceived short term political advantage, might make the symbolism trite, but it also strengthened my decision.

    So anyway I agree with you and feel completely lost, politically, although on the plus side an inability to find satisfaction on the public policy front has rejigged my interest in law a bit!

  22. Posted May 31, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I have made a terminological error in referring to rebates — I was thinking of stimulus cheques, essentially. Not as good as tax cuts, but much better than subsidies.

  23. Posted May 31, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    The sad thing is I think the ALP have some talent on their side but they are now expending their energies apologising and spinning to cover for the stupidity of the ALP leadership.

    I think part of this ineptitude is straight up pork barrelling for the ALP’s traditional constituency as represented by certain trade’s unions and firms. The education revolution appears to me largely an excuse to conduct a circus whereby bread is spread amongst the ‘true believers’ (to stop the xenophobic so and so’s going back to the Tories).

    But Kevvie’s definitely a fizzer. I hope this will put an end to the rule of the Technogeek Robot at the ALP but I doubt it. They’re a new breed (they’re breeding them).

    On the LPA’s leadership… yikes! Remember this is basically a worn out government that really hasn’t got it together in opposition yet. The best they can do is push the Fear of Boat People and Back To The Fifties. It’d be better for the country to’ve had them in opposition at least one more term with fresh blood and a new hierarchy established.

    I wonder if we could try three years without a government. Maybe it’d work. 🙂

  24. John H.
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    It is worrying and perhaps instructive to think that the people we have chosen as leaders often have enjoyed the best fruits of our culture yet all too often turn out to be incompetent, dishonest, corrupt, narcissistic, and prone to get lost in their own fantasies.

  25. Posted June 1, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    As with most blogs, you attract commenters with similar ideas as your own. Skeptical Lawyer appears no different. Go to another blog which supports a left leaning idealogy (or Labor) and you will get similar followers. Anyway I am probably jealous because at least you get comments on your blog.

    Now having provided that little useless snippet, let me say this about your post. I disagree with a lot of the things that you say. I do not think there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the insulation scheme and the BER have been failures. They were part of policy to deal with the GFC, so had to be implemented reasonably urgently, loss of employment resulting from the GFC and, in the case of the insulation scheme, climate change. There have been 4 deaths associated with the HIS but as another commenter has pointed out, this is less per insulated house than prior to the scheme. The problems with the BER seem to be driven by right wing media pundets such as Ray Hadley and supported by the Murdoch Media. Those problems may turn out to be true, but at the moment all evidence appears only anecdotal and I’m not sure we get the full story from the Australian and Hadley.

    The so called backflip on the ETS appeared disappointing for those keen on urgent action on climate change, but I cannot see what else the Govt could do. The senate refused to pass it, there was no room for negotiation for the Govt, and bringing the issue to a head via a double dissolution would have resulted in, if Labor was able to pass the ETS, a rushed introduction of the scheme.

    Having said all that, I am most disappointed by this Govt’s failure to deliver a coherent message, which is ironic coming from a Govt which apparently relies on spin. The backflip on advertising, while I understand it and think it is reasonable, should have been avoided because it gives the Govt the appearance of being dishonest.

  26. Posted June 1, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    The reason I haven’t commented on this thread until now (apart from living in the UK since before KRudd was elected) is that I don’t actually think government should be doing any of this stuff (with the possible exception of a carbon tax), because I think governments are generally shite at planning on other people’s behalf. People should make their own plans and be left to bear the consequences (that means the incentives are properly aligned).

    Yes, you can cue the heartless-libertarian-who-doesn’t-care-about-inequality-music now…

    We all do have rather different politics at this blog. Just sayin.

  27. Posted June 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Fair enough.

    You’re right Legal Eagle. You can’t say that and then do the opposite, even if it is justified. I think in politics not only is it important to do the right thing, but it is also as important, and sometimes more important, to be seen to do the right thing. This is one of those moments.

  28. Posted June 2, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I am a “left moderate social libertarian”, so there you go. Officially categorised.

    Strange this need to categorize one’s self. I had a friend who started inserting: “As a liberal Catholic humanist…” before expressing any opinion. She’d finally decided.
    Guess there are worse things to be.
    I’m going to start telling people I’m a fascist-anarchist at parties. I think it’ll be more fun that way. 🙂

  29. Posted June 2, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    “liberal Catholic humanist”

    Sounds like almost as wrenching a case of cognitive dissonance as the old Aussie blogger dreadnought…

  30. Posted June 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Armagny, I always feel very sorry for gays and lesbians who are honest about their sexuality but want to stay Catholic or Muslim or whatever. Some of them turn themselves into pretzels trying to prove that the relevant Bible verses only refer to the ritual sex that was part of various pagan practices, but on the whole, the anti-gay in the Bible/Koran is straight up anti-gay, and attempts to argue otherwise are just sad (apart from keeping various Oxford classicists entertained).

    Then there are the gay Catholics/Muslims who understand exactly what their holy book says and don’t try to explain it away. And try to be celibate as a consequence.

  31. Patrick
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Probably explains why Andrew Sullivan lost his grip on reality…all the pretzling.

  32. Posted June 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Thing about Catholicism is that it’s well understood by everyone who isn’t Irish that there’s a diference between what is said and what is done. As the priest says of the Bible in Jesus of Montreal: It can be made to say anything.

  33. Stephen WILLIAMS
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Some time back one of the crew posted something about Lawyers being the best people to enquire into the science of ‘Climate Change’. The Pennsylvania Law School recently did something along that line. Have a look at this – just thought you may be interested

3 Trackbacks

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