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Labor’s legacy under Abbott’s axe: what will survive?

The Abbott government wants to hack down much of Labor’s legacy. We investigate which Labor reforms are likely to survive, and who history may come to judge as the better PM out of Rudd and Gillard.

Labor may end up with a slim legacy from its six years in power under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. And contrary to what some pundits claim, Rudd will likely leave a larger policy footprint than Gillard.

Crikey has looked at 27 key Labor reforms and initiatives from 2007 to 2013 — the measures of which the ALP is proudest — and examined whether they are likely to survive the Abbott government.

We’ve found that almost half the key reforms are under threat from the Coalition (13 out of 27), while the rest are likely to live on. The schoolkids of the 2020s will probably learn about Labor’s historic apology to the stolen generations, better support for the disabled via the┬áNational┬áDisability Insurance Scheme, and the country’s first paid parental leave scheme. These look set to go the distance.

While not technically “reforms”, Labor’s legacy will also include guiding the Australian economy through the GFC, and the country’s first female PM and first female governor-general.

But Labor’s carbon price, mining tax and Gonski school reforms might be gone and forgotten by the 2020s, and Labor’s big increases to health and education funding might be a distant memory.

Crikey also compared Rudd-initiated reforms with those driven by Gillard. We found Rudd’s are more likely to survive.

Key moves by Rudd that are set to stay include the apology to the stolen generations, the rise in the aged pension and the childcare rebate, paid parental leave (it may be supplanted by a more generous scheme), and removing discrimination against same-sex couples in legislation. In the Rudd era, WorkChoices was abolished, the Kyoto Protocol was signed, and cigarettes were put in ugly plain packages (all these will survive — for now at least).

In the Gillard era, key reforms that look likely to continue are the NDIS, raising the tax-free threshold to $18,000, and the royal commission into child sex abuse. Most of Gillard’s signature reforms are under threat: the carbon price, the mining tax, the Gonski school funding model.

It’s important to note that some reforms deemed “under threat” may survive because the Coalition has to convince the Senate (and in some cases the states) to scrap them. Labor’s large increases to health and education funding, which Treasurer Joe Hockey tried to drop in this week’s federal budget, could live on because the Senate or the states might thwart Hockey.

And this table does not necessarily indicate that Rudd was a better policy reformer than Gillard. Rudd came first, so he picked off the low-hanging policy fruit — the easy targets after 11 years of John Howard’s rule (e.g. signing the Kyoto Protocol and an overdue rise in the pension). Gillard had to contend with a minority Parliament to boot.

But the ex post facto characterisation of Gillard as a strong policy reformer who was dragged down by politics and sexism may not stand the test of time. And the depiction of Rudd as an eccentric, populist show pony who achieved little in the policy sphere may be unfair. He initiated quite a few reforms that are now locked in and non-controversial, hence have been largely forgotten about.

Another conclusion from this table is that it doesn’t matter how great a prime minister’s policy agenda is; if you don’t convince the public and you get thrown out of office, the policy will go. The politics trumps merit. Memo to Gillard.

This table shows Labor’s key reforms, which politician initiated and drove the reform, and whether the reform is safe from the Abbott government. “Safe for now” under “explanation” means the Coalition has not revealed plans to change that reform, but may well do so …

(Click on the table to see a larger version)

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  • 1
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the table needs an extra column: On Unity Ticket Before Election.

  • 3
    pertina1
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    You’re to kind Cathy, the NBN is gone - death by a thousand cuts! Mini-plutocrat Turnbull has quietly gutted an investment in genuine 21st century infrastructure(as opposed to Abbotts roads and more roads - how quaintly 2oC)with barely a whimper from Labor. Low speed patchwork that will remain (NBN-lite?) will be privatised, with Turnbull’s corporate cronies cherry-picking the profitable bits and the rest of us stuck back in the tech stone age. Another victory for the down under tea party wannabees!

  • 4
    AR
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    pertina1 - ouch, too pertinent.

  • 5
    CML
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    pertina1 - Right on!

    Cathy - I am not so sure that the NDIS should all be in Gillard’s column. Seem to remember that Shorten did an enormous amount of work on disability when he was a minister in the first Rudd government. Also think it was originally Rudd’s idea?

  • 6
    Paddy Forsayeth
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Cathy, would you and other journalists make a distinction between a mining tax, the Labor super profits mining tax and various mining royalties. The idea that mining would pay no tax at all is silly. Mining companies, as all companies pay a tax; the one Abbott et al. refer to, I assume is the super profits tax.

  • 7
    Dipaha
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    The NDIS was a policy pegged to Medibank [1973]forty years ago. That would an NDIS slotted under the name of Gough Whitlam.
    It took forty years until a younger and more sophisticated generation of parents looked at the lives expected of the primary carers of those born with a profound disability and who alone were shouldering all of the load on behalf of a society who “loves” to makes the claim that they are fair and decent… and yet never bothered to shoulder any of the burden.
    These younger parents will simply refuse to accept the current terms and conditions assumed by the previous generations of primary carers.
    And anyone who imagines they can put off, or under fund opportunities for early interventions or the education or skills learning of their bubs…. needs to re-think. These purposely skipped the media and the pundits and the public…. and went straight to the Government. And they will continue to do so…. waiting on the public… is a losers game.

  • 8
    CML
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    You may well be correct, Dipaha, but the modern version of the NDIS began under the first Rudd government.
    Don’t remember hearing anything about it at all during the Howard years. And, as you say, if the rAbbott thought he could get away with it, you wouldn’t hear anything more about it, until Labor returned to the government benches!

  • 9
    ZA
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    PCEHR = Under threat (not gone though, but we will see next year….)

  • 10
    Posted Friday, 16 May 2014 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    The demand driven system for baccalaureates in public universities was introduced by Gillard as education minister while Rudd was prime minister. It will last and the Coalition will manage at least to extend it.

  • 11
    Cathy Alexander
    Posted Monday, 19 May 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    That’s a good point CML, and I did dig around on this before writing the story. From what I could make out, work on the concept of an NDIS did indeed begin under Rudd, but it was during Gillard’s tenure that it gathered momentum and was sold (successfully, I might add) to the public. I chalked it down to Gillard, but it’s correct that Rudd did play a role in it.

  • 12
    Cathy Alexander
    Posted Monday, 19 May 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Paddy, the item “mining tax” in the table refers to the MRRT, the Gillard-era resource super-profits tax on mining profits. I didn’t put Rudd’s RSPT in the list, because it didn’t happen (and indeed, helped cost him his job). The phrase ‘mining tax’ means a resource super profits tax, rather than straight out taxes / royalties on the mining industry, which have continued.

  • 13
    Cathy Alexander
    Posted Monday, 19 May 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    It’s been pointed out to me via Twitter that something is missing from the list - Labor taking Japan to the ICJ over whaling, and winning, which has caused the Japanese authorities to abandon lethal whaling for the 2014/15 season (although it may start up again in late 2015). It’s fair to say that this is a legacy item and it’s not threatened by the Abbott govt, so it would be green. The primary credit for the legal action goes with Rudd, although the case was continued under Gillard (and Abbott). A good pick up, thanks

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