It has come as a great surprise to the Rudd government that people actually behave rationally. To one up Malcolm Turnbull, and be “ahead of the curve”, they gave an apparently free guarantee to all bank deposits. Turnbull’s subsequent warning (The Insiders on 19 October), when there was still time to retreat, was ignored.
Let’s get one thing clear: the run on the mortgage funds — funds which support vast numbers of self funded retirees — was created by the Rudd government. Not intentionally, just incompetently.
It is only indirectly related to turmoil in the world financial markets. They promised to be fiscally safe and conservative, but even the Whitlam government – hitherto our most financially incompetent government — never created a situation in which Australians are finding their life savings can’t be accessed and which they fear may be lost.
The Treasurer’s advice to go to Centrelink reveals their magic pudding mentality. Once in office the government seemed lost in a morass of bureaucratic process, taking only decisions which give it celebrity spin status. Their one hard decision has been a disaster, both as to process and as to substance. Kevin Rudd seems curiously determined to be our first celebrity Prime Minister.
Indicating which world leader he has just spoken to is one thing, but the leak in The Australian on 25 October must have ensured an avalanche of emails from every embassy and high commission warning foreign leaders to be wary whenever they pick up the phone and the caller says” Kevin Rudd, prime Minister of Australia here.”
(Incidentally, the appalling leak was that when Rudd proposed a G20 meeting, the President allegedly asked “What’s the G20?”) And some of us thought Mark Latham was a curious choice.
Treading the world stage at conferences whose sole purpose is media spin, the prime minister is obsessed with managing the daily news cycle. So did Howard, but he had to go over a hostile media to communicate with the people. No one could suggest Rudd has to deal with a hostile media — yet.
That the bureaucracy seems to have been equally unprepared for the run on the funds is the direct result of the deliberate destruction over the last few decades — and the Coalition is even more guilty on this — of one of the jewels of the Westminster system, a fearless and independent public service.
Surely such a monumental decision necessitated written advice. But as with the decision to turn half the surplus into a Christmas gift to selected mainly welfare recipients, there seems to be no written advice, and no modelling as to the consequences.
The maintenance of a sound currency is far too important to hand this over to yet another quango, the so-called independent Reserve Bank. But since politicians on both sides see abandoning their core duty as some act of heroic virtue, only a monumentally incompetent government would neglect to have not only their direct oral and written advice but also the opportunity to subject the governor to rigorous questioning.
That this should happen before not after taking such a crucial decision is elementary.
The best analogy is war. Imagine deciding on a major military offensive without the direct involvement of the chief of the general staff. It seems that in his conversation with the President, the Prime Minister advised him on measures to be taken to ensure a similar crisis does not occur.
Let’s hope he didn’t advise him how to create a run on funds. Ahead of the curve indeed.