Since the anniversary of the election of the Rudd Government is now upon us, a handful of commentators have already attempted an appraisal of Kevin Rudd’s first year. Their focus has been more on Rudd than his Government. The general tenor is that, almost grudgingly, they acknowledge he’s not doing such a bad job, and the people seem to like him, but the commentators have plenty of negatives, and warn of a variety of ‘dangers’ lurking for him in the days ahead, which may reverse his popularity.
This piece attempts an analysis from the starting point of labels applied over the year by the media, most of them uncomplimentary.
All talk and no action
This was a favourite until recently, until the GFC arrived. Since then Rudd and his ministers have been engaged in feverish activity taking steps to minimize its effect on our economy – the $10.6 billion economic stimulus package, the bank guarantee, the $6.2 billion car industry plan, and now the $300 million local government package. Although there has been criticism of some actions, there now seems to be a consensus that the actions were timely and largely correct, apart from ‘a few mistakes around the edges’. Not bad, considering the uniqueness of the situation and the rapidity of its advance. The mantra has now been put to bed, at least for the time being.
Of course reviews, committee deliberations, expert reports and departmental input were never seen as ‘action’ by the commentariat. It was just talk, or if a number of people were involved, a ‘talkfest’. The idea of gathering information and soliciting expert opinion, analysing it, and having stakeholders debate the issues before formulating a plan of action seemed alien. They longed for gung-ho rapid action that all could see. John Howard was their man.
The Howard Years now screening on ABC shows that our last PM was indeed gung-ho, ‘all action and no talk’ when it came to many initiatives. On such major matters as, for example, the GST and the Murray Darling Water initiative, there was virtually no consultation, just unilateral action. If journalists feel this is the way politics should be done, it’s not surprising that Rudd’s careful ‘bureaucratic’ approach is anathema to them. This is the first of several examples in this piece where it seems that it is the mindset of the commentariat, the prism through which it views the world, its idea of how things should be done, that determines how it rates Rudd and his Government. Like an old boys club, it sits in judgement, but never bothers to state its criteria.
All symbolism, no substance
Although the media applauded the signing of the Kyoto Protocol and ‘The Apology’ they were quick to label these nation-changing events as ‘symbolic’, sometimes ‘merely symbolic’. They seemed unable or unwilling to place these ‘symbols’ alongside the substance of the Garnaut Report, commissioned by Rudd while in Opposition, and subsequently the Green Paper, the Treasury modelling, and the soon-to-be-released White Paper, and the continuation of the NT intervention and its recently-completed review. If these studies, reviews, reports and actions are not substance, what on earth are they? Again, the mindset of the commentators allows them to overlook these and continue to mouth the weary ‘all symbolism, no substance’ mantra. Even respected social researcher Hugh Mackay, in an article by Simon Mann in last Saturday’s Age, says Rudd’s symbolism has fuelled the euphoria generated by his election, which he declares is ‘dangerous’ as the “euphoria bubble has to burst”. He too seems oblivious of the substance that has enveloped the symbolism, and given it meaning. The fact that so many reviews and reports, complete with recommendations, will conclude next year has now moved some journalists to predict that the Government will be overwhelmed by them, swamped by too much substance to manage. They seem unable to be satisfied. Wait for the criticism that Rudd has ‘bitten off more than he can chew’. More...