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Clumsy but ruthless — why Rudd is clearing the decks now

There’s a definite look of panic to the Government’s pre-election deck-clearing, with anything faintly inconvenient being chucked overboard in extreme haste.

It probably isn’t so much panic — all the polling suggests the Government remains on track to increase its majority at the coming election — as a combination of ruthlessness and opportunism driven by the political calendar. The Government has been preoccupied with health, but that has now moved from an extra-parliamentary stoush with the Premiers to a parliamentary stoush with the Opposition.

Next week, the week before the Budget, will be dominated by the Henry Review, with the Government’s response likely to be carefully stripped of anything that could be manipulated into a scare campaign by the Opposition. The Budget is delivered the following week, aimed at strengthening the Government’s economic credentials in the lead-up to the election.

After that, we’re virtually into the election campaign (without any agreed debates, thanks to the Government’s petulance and hypocrisy). The speculation about dates will resume with vigour and political coverage will all be channeled through the prism of the imminent poll. The Government will try to ensure that the limited Parliamentary sittings between the Budget and the election are dominated by health and Senate obstructionism.

So this brief period of political dead air, with no Parliament to provide a forum for the Opposition, was the ideal time to kill off everything that doesn’t fit the Government’s health reform and economic management narrative. The fact that all of the recent backflips except the asylum seeker suspension have been spending initiatives suggests the Government is hell-bent on delivering a significantly smaller deficit — there’ll be no repeat of the Prime Minister and Treasurer’s reluctance to mention the number this year.

Incidentally, many in the media has bought into Tony Abbott’s “great big new tax” line when talking about how the shelving of the CPRS will keep electricity prices down. Indeed, that claim has been made side-by-side with statements about how much the delay will save the Budget.  But the CPRS was going to inject $400m into the economy in 2010-11, and $2.5b over Forward Estimates. It included just under $20b worth of handouts to households, overcompensating them for the relatively minor impacts of the CPRS on electricity and petrol prices. No CPRS means no handouts — not just to polluters, but to households as well.

The Rudd team will be figuring its rather clunky clearing of the decks will get a couple of days of bad press from the commentariat — mission accomplished there — but won’t register strongly with voters out in the real world. Where it might come back to bite them, especially on the CPRS decision, is via Caucus, where plenty of backbenchers are unhappy, especially given the lack of consultation.

The next Caucus meeting, to be held when Parliament returns the week after next, might be a lot more interesting than most held under this Government — although by then proceedings will be overshadowed by taxation and the Budget.

They’ll also figure, as with the asylum seeker decision, that any left-leaning votes that would be lost as a result of the CPRS decision will be unlikely to end up with the Liberals. Indeed, if you really want genuine action on climate change, chances are you haven’t been thinking of voting Labor since early 2009.

The only complication is that that may not apply in the seats of Denison, Melbourne and Sydney where Green candidates may outpoll Liberal candidates and threaten Labor. If the Greens manage to walk the walk on Polling Day — a feat that has hitherto been beyond them — the botching of the CPRS will have been a key factor.

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  • 1
    Kevin Jones
    Posted Wednesday, 28 April 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, do you think any of the OHS harmonisation or workers’ comp harmonisation processes will get increased attention during the run-up to the election?

    The insulation installers’ deaths have got increased attention this week and will gain more as the OHS regulators, coroners, etc begin providing findings.

    The workers comp review process involves money and insurers and should generate some interesting business commentary. The sensitivities of the issue in the recent SA election were clear and the Queensland review announced this week has that peculiar anonymous letter attached to the Boral submission.

    Workplace safety is more than anything a moral obligation and the government cannot be seen to be heartless - the insulation deaths again.

    Or am I just an OHS professional in a niche profession pushing a niche barrow?

  • 2
    John james
    Posted Wednesday, 28 April 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    This decision, combined with several earlier decisions, particularly Rudd’s using junior ministers to front the media with the bad news , notably Minister Ellis telling everyone, with a straight face, that the capacity for child-care placements is much in excess of demand, and Greg Combet’s mournful announcment that the Insulation scheme was dead in the water, tells you much about the government in general, and the PM in particular.
    As Paul Kelly stated to-day, the CPRS is a “monumental backflip” and Laura Tingle was even more astute, when she stated that this is a sign of general panic, because if Rudd will do this when he is nominally ahead in the polls, what will happen if the polls’ gap closes?
    Nothing illustrates Abbott’s jibe about Prime Minister ” Blah Blah” better than this CPRS decision.
    As the Spaniards say, no ‘gohones” or as Abbo put it this morning, absolute “gutlessness”.
    I think it also tells you that Abbott has the PM and the government much more on edge than they are prepared to publicly admit.
    The Opposition should focus on the enormous number of initiatives begun but not completed by this government, the PM’s penchant for announcing big things then walking away, often leaving individuals ‘carrying the can’ ( those insulation company representatives he met under the glare of TV cameras, with notebook and pencil, telling them he’d address their concerns! What a phony! ) and the inability of this goverment to deliver.
    Combine that with some solid policy measures of their own and this will be a very competitive election. The sooner Rudd, Labor and the Left go, the better for all.

  • 3
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Wednesday, 28 April 2010 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that Rudd didn’t consult the back bench re. dumping the CPRS, and earlier Abbott didn’t consult his party re. his parental leave scheme.

    Seems to be that both leaders are playing their own populist games independent of their parties.

  • 4
    pedro
    Posted Wednesday, 28 April 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    The word seems to be that Kevin has no stomach for change, but
    everyone is ignoring the elephant in the room.

    If the Liberal dominated Senate hadn’t been so obstructionist for partisan political reasons (read “Because we can”), stymieing virtually every bill that would give some credit to the Government, there would have already been big reforms under Rudd.

    I think the Government are rightly clearing the decks against a ‘criticise everything but have no policies’ Opposition coming up to the election.

    Savvy politics, not weak leadership. The end result is that the Senate lottery at this election will determine whether this Government can achieve true reform in it’s next term.

    Wait and see.

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