We asked Crikey’s readers for their impressions of the first year of the post-Howard era. As usual, we have received a flood of responses which we will run every day this week.

Sky Mykyta writes: It was a night that defined a generation: finally, it was our time. For those of us aged around 25 to 35, for one night in November, it was like all our Christmases had come at once. At least that was how it felt to me and my circle of friends. At least for that one night and the morning after. There is a song by Sydney hip hop group, The Herd, that sums up election night 2007: “We danced like New Year’s Eve, we danced from sheer relief! Everything must change!”

For me and others around my age, our whole adult lives had been dominated by the Howard Government. Though we were still old enough to remember the Hawke/Keating years of our childhood and adolescence, most of us had never had a chance to vote in an election where we felt part of the majority. We weren’t old enough to have a full insight into the Hawke/Keating years, but we were old enough to be swept along with Keating’s vision of a new multiculturalism: a vision that perhaps rang false with older generations. We designed new flags and dreamed up new anthems in school competitions.

We were inspired by the Redfern speech (“The message should be that there is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth or the extension of social justice”). We thought Mabo was a good thing and couldn’t understand why the oldies were so scared for their backyards. We didn’t have mortgages or families of our own, we were just starting out and we wanted a vision of hope and positive change. Fundamentally, we still want that.

I was 18 years and six weeks old when John Howard was elected Prime Minister (I was 29 when he lost office). It was orientation week of my first year of university. I was so excited about voting that I registered to vote before my 18th birthday. Despite the warnings in the weeks leading up to the big day, I didn’t believe that people would truly vote for Howard, a man who was a national joke in the 1980s. I believed Keating would be able to pull through, like he had in 1993. And then on election night, when the result came through during the O’Ball concert, I suddenly felt that my vote counted for nothing. I felt like a ‘stranger in my own land’, to quote another song by The Herd.

As a teenager and young adult I flirted with the Democrats and the Greens, wanting something that could capture my imagination, but knowing they didn’t provide a realistic threat to Howard. By 2001, nothing mattered but getting rid of Howard, yet there was still nothing to inspire us from Labor, particularly after Beazley rolled over in the Tampa debacle. Then suddenly, almost without warning, we were swept up by Kevin 07. With our campaign t-shirts on, we were wearing our hope for a better future on our chests. Maybe we didn’t believe it 100% but at least we might finally get rid of Howard.

And then came election day. It’s hard to capture in words how I felt on that night in November one year ago. I wasn’t drunk but I felt like I was. I felt high as a kite, without touching anything illicit. Jamie and I went to Trades Hall Bar in Melbourne where we met up with friends, and with strangers who felt like friends. We danced like maniacs in a venue that was filled to the rafters with the happiest crowd I have ever seen. The bar ran dry and no-one minded. The feeling of connection was incredible.

The clarity of that night has faded. The Rudd Government has become disappointing as every government is disappointing compared with the hopeful vision that prompted change. But it is important not to lose sight of the fact that things have changed, that the times are different, and that the opportunity is still here to embrace the challenges of the future. A Howard Government would have retained WorkChoices. A Howard Government would not have ratified Kyoto. A Howard Government would not have said sorry to the stolen generations and to the many more who got caught up in the ripple-effect of racist and assimilationist government policies over a century.

But Rudd and Co must remember that it wasn’t just time for a change. We didn’t vote for them just because it was their turn to play. We voted for a different vision of the future last November, a vision that was less small-minded, more decent, and more open to facing the big challenges of the 21st Century. A vision that returned to the fair go that Australia is famous for. Though the euphoria of election night has faded, the goodwill is still there, but it must be embraced. Now is the time for Rudd to make the tough decisions, especially on climate change, and to ask us to make the journey with him. It’s got to be long term viability over short term crises and it’s got to be real.

Please Kevin, I’d like a dash more Obama, and a bit less bureaucrat. Be a visionary.

Terry Kidd writes: What of substance have we seen from Kev so far? Very little it appears. The first six months was talk, a steady as she goes budget and overseas trips. The second six months has seen a testy Kevin when he is under pressure and a “so far ok” policy dance reacting to overseas events. The policies announced to keep on top of the financial crisis seem to be driven by our top bureaucrats in the government financial sector — which I have no real quibble with…

I have been far more impressed with the performance of Julia Gillard who seems far more adept at running things at home while the boss is away while Wayne Swan rides her coat tails and Lindsay Tanner follows up with substance. Overall Kevin has not impressed me and I voted Labor.

Heather Cameron writes: Wonderful! So much better than the previous.

Jamie Murdoch writes: I’m a bit sick of all the clichés and rhetoric of Kev07, but the apology was brilliant and by acknowledging that climate change actually exists, at least it feels like we’re in the 21st century. Not having to listen to John W Howard bang on has been a blessing.

Roger Wootton writes: Kevin Rudd’s a good talker. Dr Spin. Hollowman. Has he implemented anything? Not sure. Spent up big? Yes. Are we a better country? I doubt it. His frequency of travel is above average.

Rob McCourt writes: This has been a year when it is hard to determine how Kev is really going. Any new Prime Minister has the benefit of a honeymoon for at least six to 12 months. After all why vote him in if we don’t like him at least for a little while. And then just what any new Prime Minister needs. A crisis not of your making. For John Howard it was Port Arthur. A chance to dominate the stage, appear, even genuinely so, empathetic, and what do you know the approval rating goes through the roof. And so with Kev. A financial crisis not of his making. A time to look grave, concerned, and in control. Kev would not only save Australia but probably the world.

So let’s overlook all that and look at what has really happened in the country. Lots of symbolism. Sorry and Kyoto. As the cynics would have noted it didn’t do much. The plight of Aborigines is no better. And our commitment to carbon credits, smaller footprints and emission reduction or whatever the word is, well that’s all being subsumed by Kev’s obligation to save the world. On the backburner it goes albeit a low emission burner. And the Education Revolution. Well the laptops are still coming. Fuel Watch, Grocery Watch, Whale Watch, Bank Watch, watch anything have come with lots of fanfare and no substance.

And lots of committees, white papers, discussion papers, green papers and half of Tassie is gone. They may as well have the pulp mill.

In summary Kev hasn’t done anything offensive. He has been consistently boring (who writes, if that is the word, for him?), but reassuring. But he hasn’t done anything. The public won’t care about that for a while. At least one term. But sometime in late this term or next term Kev will have to do something. And do it without a committee, a Watch or tearing down the forests. Because ultimately leaders have to lead. That means they have to make decisions.

After twelve months I’m not so sure Kev is good at making hard decisions except for his benefit.

Sam Lahy writes: My highlights:

  1. Verbal apology to the stolen generation followed by — nothing. Echoes of the reconciliation walk aftermath?
  2. Recycling of Howard-esque spin politics e.g. Shock-horror binge-drinking epidemics to silence debate on the PM’s questionable links to China. Very Blair Labour and about as effective as it turned out.
  3. A return to Popularism. Consult with Cabinet? Do they know who I am? I was elected by the people, damn it!
  4. Continued failure to take action on the Murray-Darling water management plan. Just too freaking difficult; even with Labor State govts across the board. Easier to just declare war on … well, anything really.
  5. Kevin the international Globetrotter. Kinds at odds with a public stance on Greenhouse gas emission reductions targets I would have thought?
  6. Start your ego. No George, this is tip-top secret. Only my wife, my wife’s friends and a couple of journos need ever know…

Ted Jackson writes: Kevin has initiated a flashback to the first Chrissy I realised Santa was just parental bullsh-t… tooth fairy etc. It should be possible — without the destruction of Australia’s international credibility — to have differing opinions to the US and Europe. Unless of course —you had to tow the collective line in the interest of … say … outside institutional financial pressure?

Bart Beswick writes: I am Gen X single man who wishes to earn my roughly Australian average wage, purchase a place to live near my place of employment, commute using public transport and forego the use of a car. One year of Kevin Rudd and I see these things as just as impossible as under Howard as it was under Keating before him.

Bev Harris writes: After watching The Howard Years on ABC I am even more pleased that we voted for Kevin Rudd to be PM last November. Although the Opposition and several irrelevant journalists drooled over the so-called “Phonegate” matter, it is of no consequence to the voters. I feel that Rudd looks every inch the Statesman when overseas. He is restoring Australia’s standing internationally and his rapport with Asian nations is a great boon to us. Rudd’s government appears to me to be diligent, thoughtful and honest. A very good first year.

Colin White writes: I wish Kevin Rudd would talk less and do more. His powerful rhetoric transfers, so far, to pathetic results. He is, however, preferable to the Teflon Coated Man of Steel.

Jim Nash writes: Every time I think of Kevin I find it more difficult to believe he is prime minister of Australia. And what makes the difficulty all the harder is that he does not look, sound or act like an Australian prime minister — indeed, Billy McMahon would come a distant second to this bloke in the race for the “appears like a PM” wooden spoon. In keeping with this personal void the lack of anything but rhetoric policy is and likely will remain the hallmark of his term in office.

Dull clichés, copy cat responses to topical issues and a pretence to be an ordinary Australian truly show him to be a man without vision, any sort of vision, that even the worst of past PMs were not lacking in some form or another. Despite the polls it is unlikely that Kevin 07 will end up being Kevin 10. If Julia doesn’t bring him down in the interim the voters will two years hence.

Barb Frey writes: Kevin Rudd said sorry and action on climate change is happening (however one might feel it is not enough). These two things alone have changed the face of Australia for the better, present and future. Not too happy with the “24/Kevin” reputation for punishing work hours. I believe such a work ethic, while admirable and presumably productive in some respects, is detrimental to family, other key personal and work relationships, and takes its toll on one’s physical and mental health. “Australia the Burned Out” is not somewhere I care to live…

Peter Fray

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