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Oct 26, 2012

Keane: politics goes back to 2010 ... again

Politics will return to 2010 for several days while Maxine McKew's book is dissected. But will it change how voters feel about the Prime Minister?


Political coverage is about to enter one of those periods that infuriate social media, and more than a few Crikey readers: courtesy of Maxine McKew’s book, everything will be put on hold while the events of June 2010 are again dissected and Julia Gillard’s role in the removal of Kevin Rudd again held up to the light to see how it accords with her own description of that role.

McKew is of course a Rudd loyalist, and the events of over two years ago are explored purely from that perspective (as well as, evidently, from the perspective of a first-term, politically-inexperienced MP gifted a parliamentary secretaryship who thought she was entitled to be treated as something more than that by senior ministers). Unusually for Gillard, however, this latest eruption of the Rudd saga back into politics occurs when she’s travelling relatively well, the more optimistic among her supporters might be starting to think Labor can be competitive at the election, and the less sanguine among Tony Abbott’s media cheer squad are starting to publicly fret about his now-regular missteps.

The main threat from yet another examination of the now decidedly rotten entrails from 2010 will be to reinforce perceptions that the Prime Minister is untrustworthy, hungry for power and, on occasion, fast and loose with the truth. It could damage Gillard, of course. The fact that she was intensely ambitious seems to push some people’s buttons, particularly in the Opposition, as if it’s fine for male politicians to do whatever it takes to secure the top job but female politicians should demurely wait for it to be gifted to them.

Or it could all just be water under the bridge for voters, who have a way of forgetting if not necessarily forgiving prime ministers with a flexible approach to the truth, as long as they perform — few voters took John Howard at his word after non-core promises and the return to the GST but they stuck with him anyway.

That the book coincides with the revelation — which may turn out to mean precisely nothing — that MRRT takings thus far are exactly $0 is apt. That tax was created while the blood from the putsch was still being mopped up in Parliament House and Rudd’s political body — alas not nearly as dead as his assassins might have hoped — being wheeled out amid general lamentations of “a good government that lost its way”.

The MRRT accordingly fed into the policy issue of the week, the fragility of Wayne Swan’s surplus. Which is to say, there hasn’t been a policy issue, because the surplus is a purely political matter. The Budget being $1 billion in the black or $4 billion in the red is neither here nor there in economic terms, and is unlikely to reflect anything more than shifts in commodity prices between now and June 30. Still, as I suggested earlier in the week, that’s all fine, because our economic debate is increasingly composed of confected issues pushed by interest groups, so Wayne Swan’s surplus fits neatly into it.

The broader message from MYEFO was that the economy continues to travel at the sort of clip that should maintain employment despite an increasingly hostile global environment where the woes of Europe and the sluggish growth of the US have translated into softer growth for our key trading partners in Asia. Some more hysterical commentators tried to whip up an inflation scare off the back of this week’s CPI, despite showing a more muted-than-forecast impact of the carbon price; the problem, more specifically, continues to be gouging by power companies who are coining it by overcharging consumers and businesses for energy.

The Prime Minister has flagged that as an issue that requires urgent attention; too bad she did so as a way of getting stuck into Coalition state governments — not the best way to ensure an issue that requires genuine cross-government and bipartisan reform gets proper attention. Still, there will be an election called sometime in the next 9 months.


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