Is Kevin Rudd Tony Blair?

Judge him by what he does not what he says.

So far Kevin Rudd is proving to be every bit as politically astute as his hero, Tony Blair. He has signed Kyoto, apologised to the Stolen Generations, ripped up the hated WorkChoices legislation, declared war on plastic bags, made all the right noises about Tibet, won glowing praise for his foreign trip and has now gathered 1,000 of Australia’s finest for a chin-wag about the future. In the process, he has utterly destroyed the hapless Dr. Nelson. 

But will Super Kev, like Tony, be a man of words not deeds?  A man of grandiose vision but incapable of action? Or does he actually have an agenda beyond simply staying in power.  I suspect he does, and the early signs are not good.  

In addition to getting rid of WorkChoices, and being forced into an acutely embarrassing U-turn over their plan to reduce carer’s payments, Kevin Rudd’s government has now made or are mulling two small but significant policy changes; 

i) Yesterday he announced that he was forcing petrol companies to fix their prices for the following day and that the ACCC would then distribute this information to motorists. The scheme will start on Dec 15 and will be reviewed after one year. Consumer Affairs Minister, Chris Bowen, thinks this is a ‘pro-market, pro-competitive reform’.  This Orwellian doublespeak is straight out of the Tony Blair handbook. Note to Mr. Bowen – when the government forces a company to take action under threat of fines or imprisonment, that is not a pro-market action. It is called regulation. Some are convinced it will lead to higher prices. It may do. Or it may not. But that’s not really the point.  The point is that it’s yet more government interference into private business. And that’s an ominous start.

ii) Two years ago, single parents were entitled to full welfare payments until their child turned 15. There was no need to seek work. The Howard government sensibly lowered this age requirement to when the child started school. However, there is a clause stating that single parents may turn down an offer of work if it only leaves them $50 a week better off. The Rudd government is thinking of raising this. Peter Saunders of the CIS has an excellent piece on this mad poverty-perpetuating idea in The Australian. Is Kevin Rudd not aware that Bill Clinton in 1996 was able to dramatically raise the living standards of American single parents by reducing their entitlemements?

Kevin Rudd always makes a big deal about the need for a more competitive economy but his first four actual policy changes (WorkChoices, Carer’s U-turn, petrol regulation and more welfare) will lower the productivity of the economy requiring higher interest rates. Is he aware of this but just doesn’t care? Or worse, is he unaware of the consequences of his decisions?   It’s still too early to tell but the initial signs are that the Rudd government is not going to be as ‘pro-market’ as previous Labor administrations.  The Budget next month is an excellent chance for the (so far) disappointing Swan, the very promising Tanner and the ‘who the hell knows’ Ruddster to show us what they are really made of.  

22 thoughts on “Is Kevin Rudd Tony Blair?

  1. No it doésn’t seem as though they are going to be pro-market. The pretol thing is a joke quite frankly. It seems to come out of the Chavez school of economics.

    The other worrying thing was the reported pressure Swan is placing on the the Gov. of the RBA to fall in line.

  2. JC

    It’s worse than reported pressure. Swan’s PR team are leaking heavily that Glenn Stevens is ‘out of touch’, too elitist etc. It’s a disgraceful attack on a man who is doing so much more to preserve the value of his citizen’s currency than Bernanke. So much for an independant RBA.

  3. I’ve been alarmed by the talk in the media which has the tone of seeing petrol as some sort of consumer’s basic right. They’re doing the same thing with supermarkets and food. As if these companies owe us and they’re being greedy for attempting to sell the product for the best price they can get. As I’m sure everyone here knows things get a lot more expensive (or hard to come by) when they are considered a basic right.

    However I don’t think history has taught our PM nothing about fiddling with prices. I feel this is cynicism more than stupidity (they aren’t attempting price caps so they aren’t that dumb). He’s just saying to the Australian public that you are dumb enough to fall for this one.

    Rather than correct our fallacious supposition that it’s the government’s job to cushion us from price fluctuations he will make this token effort so as to be seen sticking it to the greedy petrol companies.

    Sadly he’s right as most people are.

  4. Pingback: Tibet » Blog Archive » Is Kevin Rudd Tony Blair?

  5. Mark – excise tax and GST account for about 60c / litre in Oz. think yourself lucky you’re not living in the UK, where they account for $1-60 of the price!

    Ben – you may be right. in which case, this is a relatively smart move by Rudd because he can placate the economic illiterates whilst not doing too much damage to business. it’s the principle of interference though that i hate.

  6. Perhaps Kevin Rudd does have an agenda Pommy, but I can’t make much sense of it. He’s definitely popular.

    During his recent trip around the world, he stated that he wants tariffs reduced and is therefore pro-WTO, he saluted George Bush and he talked of commiting troops in Afghanistan. Aren’t these the type of things that people hated John Howard for? I don’t understand the general public?! Politics isn’t about policy, it’s about appearances.

    Pommy, has identified several destructive economic policies that the Labour party are seeping in. They are worrying but I don’t think there’s any definite socialist style agenda at work just a mess of typically confused politics.

    The Labour policy that pisses me off big time at the moment is the proposed highly expensive telecommunications upgrade to be funded by the taxpayer. Optus were laying fibre optic back around 1995 but faced many regulatory problems, Telstra last year wished to improve telecommunications infrastructure (at no taxpayer’s expense) but were denied by the ACCC. By the time these government upgrades are complete they will most likely be obsolete.
    Further to Ben’s comments, what right do people have to demand high speed internet!

    Fleeced: If I remember rightly, and please correct me if I’ve got this wrong – you wrote a post a year or so ago on your blog mentioning Rudd’s wishes to increase health care expenditure.
    According to some interview, Rudd mentioned his father died in a car accident when he was young and this even has made him “care” about socializing medicine (although if he really cared, he’d bother to realise deregulation and economic freedoms give better health outcomes).
    However, Fleeced mentioned that Rudd’s father was way over the legal alcohol limit at the time of the accident and was endangering the lives of innocent people on the road.
    This story has stuck with me and definitely lowered my opinion of Rudd – because it’s led me to suspect he doesn’t understand personal responsibility.

  7. I think it’s not a case of Rudd not understanding personal responsibility, but that he’ll do whatever he thinks he has to to stay in power. Mostly with Kevin, it’s just spin. If necessary, he’ll make a symbolic gesture. And if that’s not enough, he’ll go all the way with bad policy. The best I can say about him is that he only seems to go latter option as a last resort – which suggests he probably knows what he’s doing.

    With childcare centres, he merely promised to “keep an eye on” ABC learning centres to “protect parents”. But with so many voters apparently believing that childcare centres “should not be run for profit”, I have a bad feeling.

    With regards to the death of his father – he died of septicemia – contracted from hospital after treatment after being in a car accident. As tragic as this is, the inquest into his death revealed that he had been drinking/falling asleep at the wheel.

  8. Interesting that the British press feted Rudd over his stance on China and the Olympic torch runners, only for it to be revealed as spin.

  9. I think Ben is spot on. The fuel price watch is useless policy but its good politics. The main reason I don’t like the policy is that it perpetuates the myth that high prices are the fault of some greedy so and so. The idea that the Australian government should have influence over the world price of petroleum is ludicrous.

    But Pommygranate, I think you start from a false prior. Regulation isn’t a priori bad. For instance, we have many good regulations in the financial sector. The requirement that businesses adhere to internationally accepted accounting practices is good regulation. There are many good regulations which increase the efficiency and openness of a market by reducing the actions individual actors can take. These are usually confidence/trust building: I trust that when I buy a product, if it turns out to be faulty I can take it back. Without this trust, I would be hesitant to buy something if I didn’t understand how it worked. But this is due to a regulation.

    Still, in this petrol price case, it seems like a bad idea.

  10. I disagree with you on (b). There are huge amounts of benefits going to huge amounts of people, and they often get it for years (like FTA and FTB — let alone if you want to count things like subsidies for schooling), but no-one even contemplates removing them. I don’t see why you would want to single out single mothers over other people simply because they are getting direct cash benefits and others are getting theirs indirectly. It seems to me that the tax system is the first thing that needs to be fixed here, so you don’t end up with situations where working is pointless. If the problem still exists after that, then the other targets get more viable.

    I also disagree with the opinion article. What is the evidence that all of these marginally employable people found work because of the changes versus because 10 years of world economic growth caused an employment boom everywhere?

  11. Domino

    Without this trust, I would be hesitant to buy something if I didn’t understand how it worked. But this is due to a regulation.

    First sentence is spot on. But it is not due to regulation that you trust a product. It is because of the power of its branding.

    Take the recent mess surrounding margin lending and the collapse of Opes, Tricom, Lift, Chimaera etc. Every man and his dog is calling for further regulation. But the damage has been done. The ANZ ‘brand’ name has been shattered. Its shares trade at a steep discount to its competitors and customers are becoming wary of doing business with them. this will take years to repair. It is the prospect of brand damage that keeps companies honest – not the threat of regulation.

  12. Conrad

    I’m not singling out single mums – Kevin Rudd is. My post is about his proposed policy changes not the status quo.

    What is the evidence that all of these marginally employable people found work because of the changes versus because 10 years of world economic growth caused an employment boom everywhere?

    Well, australia has experienced the same 10 years of economic good times. Is welfare lower now?

  13. This graph
    seems to indicate that unemployment was already trending down prior to Clinton’s welfare reform. That’s not to say that the reform didn’t help but there was something else forcing the unemployment rate down too.

  14. Domino,

    Further to what Pommy has said I would argue that the effects of regulation you mention IE: being confident enough to buy a product without knowing how it works is a bad thing.

    Regulation can cause false confidence and some would argue that the current financial crisis we are currently experiencing is due in no small part to hubris on the part of the lenders and the borrowers.

    Caveat emptor!

  15. Rudd is as focussed and determined to stay on top as Mark Latham, except Rudd displays the advantage of rigid self-control versus Latham’s naked aggression.

    The juggling presently requires three legs.

    Throw symbolic bones to those who decry the absence of symbolic gestures during the Coalition government. Hence we will soon have “Sorry about the plastics bags” day. Big sop for those who prioritise appearances – no names, no packdrill – you figure out who ? And achieves nothing.

    Tell as many people as possible that they are members of ‘victim’ classes, especially out in the mortagage belt. This keeps them focussed on their discontent and anger and ready to embrace Big Brother populist platitudes. The NSW state Labor govt seems to have refined keeping the electorate in a state of equisite misery and dangling the carrot of pork barrel populist promises without actually delivering services to a fine art.

    Step Two also throws a further sop to the Public Intellectuals like Clive Hamilton, David Marr and Ross Gittens who inhabit symbolism zone one above and who like to see reinforcement of their mantra that capitalism and consumerism are corrupting and oppressing the helpless mortgage-belt masses – who of course akso need to be saved from themselves by regulation.

    In the meantime while everyone is nicely distracted above, start to work the levers and grab the reins that will result in asphxiation of resources for the opposition and permanent entrenchment of the True Believers in power. Julia seems pretty on top of that side of the game.

    eg – while it may simply have been poor reporting earlier this week, the mere suggestion that certain enterprises could be designated of ‘national importance’ AND hence subject to some sort of state mandated surveillance of communications and thus control opens up whole vistas of possibility to apply pressure to the business world and oversee the exchange of ideas – like weblogs for example.

    Give it time – if they didn’t figure it out when the story first broke, they will in due course.

  16. I like to use ebay as an example of a minimal regulation market that works perfect. I think of ebay as one of the best free markets in existence. Consumers are usually more responsible for ensuring they make smart purchases, prices are set by real market forces and reputation, rather than regulation, is how one ensures good sellers. If the world worked more like ebay I think we’d all get better prices and be more satisfied with the things we bought.

    I was actually thinking last night about why petrol stations are demonised and I guess it’s because other “essentials” don’t have such price volatility. Prices might change from week to week at supermarkets in accordance to their latest catalogues, but overall the prices are quite static. I was thinking it might be interesting to open a dynamically priced supermarket with digital price tickets- during peak shopping hours prices might go up 10-20% and early morning prices might drop by the same. I wonder what that would do for people’s shopping habits? I know that I only ever buy a BBQ chicken from Coles at 11pm at night when they are discounted down to half price so I’m sure there’s some consumers that would like such a system.

    As for the single mothers thing, while being from a single mum family I’m empathetic to single mums (although mine was never unemployed and maintained at least 12 hours of part-time work throughout my entire childhood and has been working 30 hour weeks since my brother turned 14). What Rudd seems to be doing is merely tokenism and does nothing to help single mothers. If he was really serious he’d try reducing the EMTRs and have a lower phase out rate of benefits for part-time employed single mums.

  17. “I think it’s not a case of Rudd not understanding personal responsibility, but that he’ll do whatever he thinks he has to to stay in power”
    Look over there. it’s the bleeding obvious.
    You boys should get out more, I started a war, as did Bush junior, to stay in power and make sure those lovely arms contractors could keep their kids in the manner they are accustomed. A bit of populist fiddling with the price of fuel? A mention of a generally free early childhood care scheme? Chicken feed, leave it to the big boys (and girls, titter). I’ve got more testosterone in my little finger than you lot.

  18. It seems several people here, seem to think that Kevin Rudd is much more interested in power and popularity stunts than actual political principles.

    To me, this is basically the definition of political evil. While I disliked Howard’s huge public expenditure, and traditionalism for the sake of it, at least the guy seemed to have a consistent set of principles and wasn’t afraid to be unpopular from time to time.

    I agree with Kevo. I speculate that encouraging self pity is what the masses are looking for – it relieves people’s underlying feelings of fear and guilt.

    So what I am fairly certain of is that the Rudd government will actively attempt to perpetrate the myth identified by Bastiat when he said:
    “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else”

  19. Interesting you mention ebay, Shem… now that they want to force people to use paypal (which they own), the regulators are getting ready to intervene.

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