Home > ALP > Why We Have to Save Kevin Rudd from Oblivion

Why We Have to Save Kevin Rudd from Oblivion

I can’t stand Kevin Rudd. I have always believed that Rudd is exactly as Mark Latham described him in his diaries. Recent events have borne this out, and the Latham view is now widely shared in Australia although its provenance continues to be denied. When Rudd was flying sky high in the polls I had called him a “flaky” and so on. I had also characterised his standing in the polls as Labor’s “asset price bubble.”

The bubble, never based on substance or “the fundamentals”, has now well and truly burst just as the country prepares for a federal election. This is a disaster for the progressive side of Australian politics. Rudd needs to be saved from oblivion. Now is not the time for progressives and progressive commentators to sink the boot into Rudd. I say this as someone who, accurately, had characterised Robert Manne as an intellectual with a proclivity to kiss Rudd’s arse. So, at least I have some credibility on this issue.

Now is the time for progressives to call time out on putting the boot into Rudd.

This is because the only realistic alternative would be very bad for progressive politics in this country. Tony Abbott, and all those pushing his cart, are rabid extremists probably on the same wavelength as the right wing of the Republican Party in the US. If Rudd sinks into oblivion then it is clear that an Abbott led Liberal Party will come into office. The Abbottites promise to turn the clock back to rabid neoliberal labour market reforms, to cut public spending more than Labor, to dither on climate change, to pander to the mining lobby, to take the lead in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan and so on.

People of a progressive bent need to think of such matters as the federal election approaches. Despite Rudd’s cynical essay criticising neoliberalism his government has operated well within the dominant neoliberal consensus. But the level of commitment to neoliberal programs exhibited by Labor and the Liberal Party is not the same. The different levels of commitment largely flow on from institutional imperatives. The debate on the Resource Super Profits Tax is a case in point.

The debate on the RSPT largely focuses on the impost, real or imagined, that the tax will have on cashed up resource corporations. The Rudd Government largely structures the argument for the tax on, what are largely uncontroversial in other contexts, mutual obligation grounds. The resources of Australia belong to the people of Australia and the people ought to get a fairer share of the gains that those resources accrue. The debate simply assumes that the second, crucial part of the argument, is accurate.

However, the proceeds of the RSPT are meant to finance a cut in the corporate tax rate, to support changes to superannuation that are effusively welcomed by the financial services industry, still making “super profits” despite the GFC, and to fund infrastructure developments to aid corporate activities (including resource corporations).

The RSPT is not to be used to fund active labour market programmes to skill up the unskilled and the long term unemployed for what Ken Henry believes will be a coming skills shortage. That’s avoided because a tight labour market, absent skills migration, will lead to better wages for the Australian population. Ken Henry doesn’t want that, big business doesn’t want that and neither does Rudd Labor.

The Rudd policy is largely beneficial for the corporate sector in Australia as a whole. That is why opposition in the corporate media to the RSPT is not uniform. The Government’s backflip on the ETS might need to be seen, partly, in this context too. Backing up on the ETS probably was a preemptive sweetener for the resources sector. We should notice that resource corporations do not complain about the investment uncertainty that this decision on the ETS, that tends to their interests poses, poses for energy companies.

At the same time Rudd Labor has announced a tightening of the state’s “mutual obligation” provisions directed towards the long term unemployed. Unlike Clive Palmer and Twiggie Forrest whose rejection of mutual obligation is given wide coverage in the corporate media; this has been ignored in the orgy of commentary that focuses on the tender needs of the super rich. There will be no Rudd backflip on mutual obligation for social welfare recipients nor any high level consultations with their representatives, unlike for the billion dollar resource corporations.

In a previous essay, written after Labor’s decision on the parallel importing of books, I had argued that the rich will not tolerate the slightest deviation from Labor. The rich are greedy and thereby fickle. Despite their many, many millions those two fat shits, Palmer and Forrest, just want more and more. Labor is being disciplined into proper behaviour by the rich.

Although all this remains true, and more could be said about such matters, nonetheless Abbott would be much worse. With Abott all the distorting affects of the 2000s resource boom will repeat. This would follow if a similar boom should repeat, which is by no means a certainty as many commentators suppose. Under Abbott the vile maxim will continue. Under Adam Smith’s “vile maxim of the masters of mankind” the proceeds of any commodity prices boom are to be distributed inequitably, as it was when the Liberal Party was in office. Under Abbott resource corporations will win, but Australia will lose just like under Howard.

If progressive commentators are serious about taking into account the moral consequences of their actions then it follows that a unilateral ceasefire with Rudd and the ALP is now very much in order.

The issue here is not Rudd. I couldn’t care less about Rudd. The issue is the real people all around Australia who will suffer should Rudd lose office. Besides if Rudd were to be turfed now no group in Australia would be happier than the Murdoch press. The ALP should not allow the leadership of the party to be determined in the offices of Rupert Murdoch’s minions.

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