Yes, it should be a one horse race. Based on performance, on the visions and plans for the next three years and beyond, and on the talent it has on its front bench, Labor should be a country mile ahead. Yet the pundits are predicting a very close result, possibly a ‘hung’ parliament and even a Coalition win. How is it so?
The Coalition has painted the Government as hopelessly incompetent and useless, a ‘bad’ Government, in fact ‘the worst in our political history’. They will not acknowledge anything good at all about it. They insist it must be ‘thrown out’. They hope to con the people into this belief so that the voters will elect an Abbott Government, not because it has something visionary to offer, but because it is not as bad as it paints Labor to be.
So let’s look at what this Government has achieved.
Let’s leave aside the Apology and signing Kyoto, and jump to the GFC. There is an increasing body of opinion that the Government’s stimulus package was an important contributor to this nation’s emergence from the GFC. Even acknowledging the reforms of previous Labor and Coalition governments, the strong state of the economy, the solidity of a well-regulated and capitalized banking system, the support given to the banking sector through guarantees, the interest rate adjustments of the Reserve Bank, and the receipts from the mining boom, all of which contributed to shield us from the ravages of the GFC, there are still a few economists, those who have always opposed the stimulus such as Warwick McKibbin, Henry Ergas and Michael Stutchbury, who persist with the view that the effects of the stimulus were small, arrived too late, and created unnecessary debt. Against that, there was first a letter signed by ten economists, and then an open letter from 50 leading economists
applauding the stimulus, and a strong statement from Joseph Stiglitz
, Nobel prize-winning economist about how Australia’s stimulus was the best administered in the world. The Reserve bank itself has applauded the way in which the Bank’s monetary actions in lowering interest rates and the Government’s fiscal stimulus worked in harmony to achieve a good result. With unemployment low, inflation low and business confidence up, Australia has a buoyant economy, largely due to the Government’s actions.
The evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the efficacy of the Government’s stimulus package. There is no room left to argue. It is only those with partisan bias who refuse to just accept it. Every person whose job was saved, every businessman whose business was saved, ought to be eternally grateful. Unfortunately many seem not to be aware of ‘the bullet they dodged’.
Next look at the much-maligned Home Insulation Program. All the media commentary is about the deaths and the fires, the direct result of shoddy workmanship, shonky operators and fraudsters. There are many in the industry that has suffered losses as a result of this and the consequent cancelling of the program. Any fault that can reasonably be laid at the Government’s feet is its less-than-adequate administrative oversight of the program, one a Government department should have never been asked to oversee. But let’s not dismiss the fact that one million ceilings have been insulated at Government expense with all the environmental benefits that brings, the occupational health and safety regulations that have been upgraded, and that for every thousand homes insulated, the rate of fires was less than ever before.
Take the BER. Condemned at every utterance by the Coalition and by News Limited outlets for ‘waste and mismanagement’, there has been little acknowledgement of its benefits – only a focus on the 2.7% of complaints instead of the 97.3% of schools that had no complaints. The ‘waste’ amounts to around $840,000 in a $16 billion program, an overrun figure commercial projects would readily accept when speed was the essence of the endeavour. Criticism of waste in the program overlooks completely the ‘waste’ that would result from unemployment and business closure in thousands of towns and suburbs, and the misery that would have occasioned. Much of the overrun occurred in NSW where the rollout was achieved most rapidly. As clearly the speed of rollout was the essence of the program, this is understandable.
Two reports: the Auditor General’s Performance Report
on the BER released in May this year and the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce Report
chaired by Brad Orgill were positive about the BER and put the problems that occurred into perspective as relatively minor compared with the enormous benefit of the program for schools, schoolchildren, parents, and the community and the value of the program to local business and tradesmen.
Look at the computers in schools program. Julia Gillard insists that the program is on schedule in delivering computers, not way behind as the Coalition paints, and that some 696,000 computers have been funded, and of these, 297,000 have been rolled out and are in use by students. NSW has almost half its allocated computers, while Victoria has about a quarter and in SA about one-sixth. The cost of the programme has blown out by $1 billion to $2 billion, partly because of IT support, networking and software costs. So was it worthwhile? The Coalition talks only of waste and mismanagement, never about the advantage of the computers to the children that have them. The programme could have been better managed but is certainly better than no programme at all. The Coalition says it will stop the program. Too bad about the kids who haven’t yet received their computer.
While on schools, reflect on the implementation of the national curriculum and the MySchool website, major reforms, now accepted by all.
Let’s examine the ETS. The Government has done its best to get its CPRS legislation through the Senate only to be destroyed by the Coalition, even after a deal had been done to pass it. The disappointment of Copenhagen and the erosion of community support for a tax on carbon resulting from Tony Abbott’s Great Big New Tax slogan have made the task even more difficult. Whether it would have been wiser to go for broke and take the matter to a double dissolution of parliament we will never know. But certainly Labor’s deferral of the ETS has caused it electoral pain. But it did try very hard to give leadership on combating global warming. The Coalition killed it.
Look at the advances in the health field. Remember the doubling of funds for health, the increase in doctors, nurses, primary heath care facilities and GP super clinics, the reduction in elective surgery waiting times, the funding of additional beds and the increase in mental health funding, and the major reforms at a national level to integrate health care at federal, state and local level, a reform only partly completed.
Perhaps the NBN is the most important initiative of this Government. All that it means to this nation was detailed in Would Tony Abbott really be stupid enough to trash the NBN?
Yes, he would. There is no need to elaborate here on this essential advance to our society; just contemplate the threat to abandon it in favour of a Mickey Mouse el-cheapo Coalition scheme that is outdated before it starts.
On top of this Labor has an economic plan based on its achievements. An MRRT will net over $10 billion with benefits flowing to reducing company tax, infrastructure, superannuation and small business. It has well-formulated plans for education, health, and an essential NBN.
Add to all this a talented front bench – Wayne Swan, Stephen Smith, Simon Crean, Anthony Albanese, Martin Ferguson, Jenny Macklin, Nicola Roxon, Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, Chris Bowen, Chris Evans, Tony Burke, and so on the list goes.
What does Tony Abbott and the Coalition offer?
We know Tony Abbott has extreme ideological positions, that despite his protestations that WorkChoices is dead, buried and cremated, we should not underestimate the power of business to push Tony Abbott to make ‘regulatory’ adjustments to alter individual contract arrangements and unfair dismissal. We’ve seen enough of Abbott in the last eight months to accept that he is very devious yet able to convince people of his ‘honesty’ with an array of weasel words.
We have already seen Tony Abbott’s proposed savage cuts to existing and planned programs in education, health and pharmaceuticals, his intent to abandon the NBN, his intention to reject $10 billion in mining tax, his opposition to a tax on carbon because of his disbelief in the reality of man-made global warming, and some GBNTs of his own. There are some good things: funding for mental health, hospital beds, apprentices and teachers, but many at the expense of other programs that have been savaged.
But what the Coalition is offering – end the waste, pay back the debt, stop new taxes, and stop the boats – even with the plans mentioned above, when compared with what Labor has done, has still in train, and is planning for the next term is paltry in the extreme. And his front bench team is paper thin, light on talent, and its backbench ageing and out of date.
This ought to be a one horse race, but through a combination of Labor’s problems in program implementation, inadequate publicity of its many achievements and plans, and a viciously negative program of denigration of everything the Government has done by Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb particularly, aided and abetted by a vitriolic News Limited campaign to unseat the Government, the race is now close. We now have to rely on the commonsense and sound judgement of Australia’s voters to save us from the tragedy an Abbott government would be to this, our country.
What do you think?