“Worthy if limited”. We’re happy to agree with Michelle Grattan’s summation of Kim Beazley’s Budget response
– depending on how you define worthy. The Labor leader was under
intense pressure to perform. And perform he did. He gave a cracker of a
speech. Shame about the content, though.

Kimbo’s right to raise
concerns about child care, but there’s always been a double drop off
for sports training, music lessons – whatever activities kids do, in
fact. An election winner it ain’t.

The national broadband idea
isn’t bad, either – but who will own it? It makes sense for government
to create an asset like that. It also makes sense to then sell it off.
Could Labor cope?

There’s one very nasty element, though, in
Labor’s current rhetoric that deserves a real slap. They have a
brilliant idea about solving the skills crisis by taking skills out of
the workforce – the skills of foreign workers.

The White
Australia policy was the greatest triumph of our early labour movement
– keeping wages up by keeping out the heathen Chinee.

The union
movement has been playing on subliminal Hansonism for a while on this –
warning about those nasty foreigners who take the jobs of helpless
dinkum Aussies. Hysterical attacks on “cheap Chinese labour” are
re-emerging in the Labor Party’s vernacular.

Now Kim Beazley’s
taken them up. Does it make him sound like a leader? Sure – if the
leader is Billy Hughes. Or Calwell. Perhaps this is the ultimate
triumph of the well known cosmopolitans of the Queensland AWU. Their
forebears round the tree of knowledge would be proud of them.

And there lies the biggest problem with Kim Beazley’s Budget response. It was dated. It was a pitch to the populism of the past.

Kim
Beazley promised certainty – old-fashioned, government-will-protect-you,
certainty. The government will protect you from change in the
workplace. The government will protect you from change in the market.

The
lesson of the last 30 years, of course, is that governments simply
can’t do that – particularly in a nation like Australia where our
prosperity depends on markets, on competitive and constructive
engagement with the big wide world.

We got told that Peter Costello’s Budget risks inflation – but Labor identified no savings.

All
we got was a bravura rhetorical performance. Labor must be forward
looking. Mentioning “middle Australia” 38 times didn’t make Beazley’s
Budget response a blueprint for our contemporary nation.

Peter Fray

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