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.