A paralysed Gillard is making Rudd look good
PEOPLE are wondering whether Julia Gillard is up to the challenge and what the past three months have been all about.
The media coverage of Rudd’s first trip overseas as Foreign Minister rivals the breathless reporting of his travels as prime minister.
But the fascination with Rudd is more a reflection of the policy paralysis gripping Gillard back home than anything Rudd is likely to achieve overseas.
There is a fear within Labor that the fundamental weakness of Gillard’s position and that of her minority government is already exposed. The early signs are not good.
The paralysis even extends to the basic chore of government to run the parliament, with Gillard having faced huge problems, admittedly not all of her making, resolving the issue of who would be Speaker. Gillard also botched the announcement of her new ministry and was forced to endure the embarrassment of renaming or changing up to 10 ministries.
The policy paralysis means not only has Rudd been able to steal the limelight but it has allowed the Greens to dominate the policy arena, forcing voluntary euthanasia, gay marriage and other issues on to Gillard’s early agenda.
Gillard’s position of weakness obliges her to respond positively to every policy announcement from the loose alliance of Greens and independents.
She must be grateful that Bob Katter decided to support the Coalition, as she would have struggled to balance his demands with those of the Greens.
Gillard does not have the status of a long tenure as Prime Minister from which to draw authority in the job and will have to rely on her overhyped skills of negotiation.
Her approach thus far appears to be appeasement, as she has challenged virtually no aspect of the policy agenda proposed by the Greens and independents.
Rob Oakeshott and more particularly Tony Windsor made much of the Treasury costings of Coalition policies, disputed by the Coalition.
To be consistent, they must now demand that Treasury cost the policy proposals of the Greens.
Windsor has said publicly he is not worried about the agenda of the Greens, unlike many of his more sensible rural and regional constituents, who may well be deeply concerned by the idea of death duties or bans on some mining activity.
It will be fascinating to see the Treasury costings for Greens policies such as universal free education and universal free child care.
These factors and more have led to much speculation about how long the Gillard government will last, or how long Gillard will remain as Labor leader.
Gillard’s position on Labor’s key policies adds to the uncertainty. From the moment Gillard gave her first press conference as Prime Minister, there has been a lack of clarity about what she stands for and even why she took the job from Rudd.
The stated reason for the need to change leaders was that the government had lost its way and Gillard had to take control to ensure the government got back on track.
She cited the handling of the resource super-profits tax, climate change and asylum-seekers as examples of the Rudd government’s failings and issues she would fix.
The mining tax was “fixed” with the negotiation of a deal with the three mining giants, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata, that excluded 3000 other mining companies. The new mineral resources rent tax was to reap $10.5 billion in tax. This creates a huge potential black hole for Labor’s budget.
Big election promises, including reducing the company tax rate, depend on the introduction of the mining tax. Whether Gillard is able to get legislation passed that reflects the deal she negotiated with the three mining giants remains to be seen.
Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie has indicated he won’t support the tax in its present form. Oakeshott and Windsor clearly believed that as part of their agreement to support the Labor Party to form government, the mining tax would be referred to a tax summit to take place before June next year. Treasurer Wayne Swan has convinced them that what they really meant was for the tax to be referred to the Don Argus tax implementation committee, an unlikely scenario given the Argus committee was set up before the federal election.
Then there is climate change. Gillard’s fix was a citizens’ assembly of 150 people who would discuss the issue and reach a consensus on it. Derided during the election campaign, the assembly was dumped after the campaign to be replaced by the Greens’ all-party parliamentary committee to comprise only those parliamentarians who believe in a price on carbon. On the eve of election day Gillard said: “I rule out a carbon tax.” When BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers went public recently with his support for a carbon tax, the Prime Minister decided it might be a good idea after all and declared that to rule it in or out was “a little bit silly”.
With the government’s climate change policy in the hands of a parliamentary committee and the Greens set to hold the balance of power in the Senate from July next year, Gillard will be lucky to have much input into the policy’s final design.
Then thereare asylum-seekers. Gillard stated she would provide “strong management of our borders” and announced plans for an offshore processing centre in East Timor. While her initial blunder in announcing a policy concerning East Timor without appropriate consultation with its government was bad enough, the Prime Minister’s insistence that she is negotiating with East Timor when clearly she is not makes her look ridiculous. Meanwhile, the boats keep coming and the government is expanding its onshore detention facilities to house the growing number of asylum-seekers.
Gillard is making Rudd look good by comparison.
Gillard stifles debate, says Labor left
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has urged her Labor MPs to work as a team, as the party’s left wing accused her of stifling debate and giving political oxygen to the Greens.
The latest AC Nielsen poll showed Labor had failed to get a bounce following the election, with the coalition leading 51-49 on a two-party preferred basis.
Labor’s primary vote has fallen four points to 34 per cent, while the Greens are up two points to 14 per cent and the coalition is down one point to 43 per cent.
Co-convenor of the ALP national left wing, Doug Cameron, has launched a scathing attack on the state of the party, saying it is losing ground to the Greens on a number of fronts, including social policy and climate change.
Describing the caucus room to an ABC interviewer on Monday, Senator Cameron said: “It seems to be like having a political lobotomy.
“You are not allowed to talk about things and really, you know, we don’t want zombie politicians.”
The former union leader urged the Gillard government to back gay marriage – which the Labor Party platform opposes – tackle climate change and improve the bargaining power of workers.
Ms Gillard last week unveiled a new plan for a set of caucus committees to generate new ideas for the party but has stood by the party’s “pledge” system which promotes a united view.
The prime minister said on Monday she wanted to see a “rich, deep public debate about the big issues that face Australian society”.
“But we come from a political party that believes we are strengthened by being members of a team and the way the team works is we have those discussions internally and work things through, through our own process,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
Ms Gillard, who affiliates with the party’s left, rejected calls for homosexual marriage, saying Labor’s national conference had affirmed such unions should only be between man and a woman.
Labor historian Professor Ross Fitzgerald said Senator Cameron had hit the nail on the head.
“It just seems to me the current federal Labor party is governed by opinion polls and focus groups and that under Gillard doesn’t seem to stand for anything at all,” he told AAP.
“If this keeps going the Greens will increase their vote and it’s not just in the inner city places like Melbourne and Brisbane.”
Prof Fitzgerald said Ms Gillard’s “ultra-pragmatist” approach contrasted with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who had a “core set of values”.
AAP, Mon Oct 25 2010
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