The weekend and today’s media have been full of assessments of Kevin Rudd’s and his Government’s first year.
First the positive. Paul Kelly writing in The Weekend Australian 22-23 November begins his piece First among equals with “Kevin Rudd never imagined a year like this. Australia's control-minded Prime Minister has been hit by an out-of-control financial hurricane that will define his first term, disrupt his plans and pose a challenge he never conceived.” He goes on to say "Almost before his prime ministership is well established, it must be remade in economic and political terms. This task has just begun, yet, so far, Rudd's political skills have been supreme." In a video in The Weekend Australian Kelly begins with the statement that Kevin Rudd should be very happy with his first year as PM and that he finishes in a stronger polling position than at the election. He describes the two halves of the year, the latter after the GFC, and says that will become the fundamental narrative for the Rudd Government which will try to make sure Australian does not sink into recession. He ends “His response will determine his fate at the next election and the character of his Government.” He said similar things on the ABC TV’s Insiders on Sunday morning.
Then there was a nice series of visuals in The Weekend Australian that includes a scorecard, a poll tracker, promises, timeline, gallery, quotes and travel map. All well worth a look. On the scorecard Samantha Maiden rates Kevin Rudd a 7/10 and Malcolm Turnbull 8/10, which may tell us something about her orientation. She rates Julie Bishop lowest at 5/10.
In the same paper Dennis Shanahan starts with a headline Living up to its promise and then proceeds via a long anecdote involving Joel Fitzgibbon to point to Rudd’s ‘habits, attitudes and character’. Dennis does concede that “...he has had a good first year of delivering promises, including the early high point of the apology to the Stolen Generations. He also has avoided ministerial scandals, big mistakes and instability.” High praise from Dennis indeed. Then almost as if that stuck uncomfortably in his craw, he proceeds to point out what he sees as Rudd’s many shortcomings. He finishes, somewhat incongruously, “That's the positive side of Rudd's unquenchable thirst for information, his tireless need to be in control and his interference from on high: he's taking nothing for granted and is adjusting his political strategy to stay in government.” If you’ve the stomach, see if you can find the plusses.
Lenore Taylor in a piece More than a term for electoral endearment in commenting on the Rudd Government’s first anniversary raises the spectre of the Government being a ‘oncer’, something she says is in the interests of both sides to readily acknowledge. She concludes that ”...there's no real reason to assume that the crisis will eat into the Government's political capital on the same scale that it eats into its surplus. Handled competently, it could bolster Labor's economic management credentials and Rudd's image as a leader with mettle rather than a former bureaucrat who doesn't need much sleep.” [more]
Saturday’s Age featured an article by Shaun Carney A very good year that says that if “...avoiding major ‘cock-ups’ is a measure of political success, the Rudd Government has done pretty well...” Carney then points to the obvious difficulties ahead with the GFC, the style of Rudd’s leadership, mentions Rudd’s attachment to process, predicts he will ‘never be loved’, alludes briefly to the Government’s poll success, but tempers that with the statement that not everyone in caucus is ‘a happy camper’ because of ‘the haughtiness of some ministers’, and ends where he began “For now, the Government draws comfort from its status as an administration that managed to avoid a major blunder in its first twelve months. In democratic politics, the bar is set pretty low.”
In another piece in the Age Too much gabbing, not enough doing Daniel Flitton, styled as ‘diplomatic editor’, rather flippantly suggests that many of the meetings of world leaders are not ‘significant’, that Rudd travels too much, and that attending such meetings might not be an efficient use of his time. He doesn’t advance what might be a better use.
Saturday’s AFR features an article by David Crowe and Louise Dodson A prime minister’s trial by fire – His first year has been a huge challenge on any measure. So far Kevin Rudd thinks he’s ahead on points. I looked for the authors’ views, but found them hard to find. They talk of Rudd’s ‘stumbles over the last year’ refer to the George W Bush ‘leak’, which is portrayed as “...revealing poor judgement about the handling of political spin” quote Rudd as saying in an interview “I think cabinet ministers have performed really well.”, return to the theme of ‘narrative’ and report Rudd as saying “...there is a narrative and it is about making Australia stronger, fairer and more secure.” and the “... goal is to lift productivity, help the powerless and build national defence all at the same time.” Later they quote Rudd as saying “We actually believe that what mainstream Australia wants is not just a narrative. It wants action.” Rudd spells it out: “Strength is about productivity issues such as infrastructure and deregulation. Fairness is about health, homelessness and indigenous Australia. Security means long-term planning including a white paper on defence, due early next year.” Rudd adds a fourth item “sustainability – to include water and climate change”. If that’s not enough narrative, how much more is needed?
Today’s Herald Sun leads with an AAP story Labor, Libs divide on party lines over 12 months of Rudd that features a claim by economic forecaster Chris Richardson of Access Economics that the budget is already running a $1bn deficit as the Rudd Government celebrates a year in office. Of course he’s talking about the 2009/2010 fiscal year, not the current one, although the article’s author doesn’t make that sufficiently clear. Richardson told ABC radio that falling commodity prices are already taking their toll on the economy, and that "We are headed for deficit pretty fast, China is now slowing, Australia is now in trouble...even if Australia's economy gets no worse and the Government doesn't spend another cent into this downturn, we're in deficit by a billion dollars next financial year, $4 billion a year in the years after that." The piece then points out that today's Newspoll shows that more than half of voters would be concerned if the Government took the budget into deficit.
It then reports the other Newspoll results that showed, as The Australian put it, "...a near-perfect polling year for the Rudd Government."
Then it reports comments from Opposition spokesmen. Tony Abbott warned of Labor hubris in celebrating the anniversary, and said that "The Australian public are a lot less satisfied with Kevin Rudd than he is with himself.'' Don Randall said Australia was not now a better country than it was a year ago, and that Australians would be better off under Malcolm Turnbull. "Malcolm is ahead of the game. He is in boxing terms leading rather than counter-punching like Mr Rudd.'' Peter Dutton said “Labor had promised much, but delivered nothing. Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd really have got no idea of how to manage the economy''
This is the well known sandwich strategy - adverse comment first, then the unavoidable good news, then finish with more adverse comment. The good news filling gets lost as the reader bites on the stale bread on either side
The Adelaide Advertiser runs the Newspoll results; today’s other online news don’t offer opinions.
Crikey has two items worth reading Kruddiversary: according to the commentariat compiled by Andrew Crook and Kruddiversary: according Crikey readers.
Sunday’s Insiders made a rather tabloid effort at an assessment. Dennis Atkins was the most sensible; Andrew Bolt had nothing good to say about the Government, except that if it hadn’t made any bad mistakes it was because it has ‘done nothing’, and Annabelle Crabb still hasn’t grasped why the Government is behaving differently regarding fiscal conservatism now from what it did in the first half of the year. Maybe the GFC has something to do with it. The best part was the interviews in Nambour.
So what do we make of all this. First Rudd and the Government’s strong position in the opinion polls are undeniable. Of course that will change, but it’s been remarkably constant during the first year and is better than at the election. The people polled like what Rudd and his Government are doing. To some commentators this is unpalatable, so they dilute it with the negatives as they see them.
Next, several journalists have mentioned the lack of scandal, as if that deserved a pat on the back.
Then there’s the usual adverse comments about ‘process’, as if somehow carefully gathering information and expert opinion and consulting with stakeholders before reaching a decision and planning action, is unnecessary and a waste of time. Where were some of these journalists trained? Not in business or industry, or in scientific circles, or even in an economics environment. If they’re reflecting training standards in journalism, heaven help us. Maybe their belief system has been fashioned during the Howard era, where it’s becoming increasingly obvious that there was not much ‘process’ involved in such major decisions as the GST, going to war in Iraq, the ‘Pacific Solution’, the waterfront dispute and the Murray-Darling Water plan. It’s time, after a whole year, that the media got up to speed about process, accept how critically important it is, and desist from regarding it as talk rather than action. It’s not that difficult to grasp.
There are many reviews that are nearing completion; two important ones are the CPRS and the Defence White Papers. There are many others in train such as the tax review that will cover pension and social service payments and the budget and expenditure review in preparation for next year’s budget.
2008 has been a year of significant accomplishment. Ratifying Kyoto, ‘The Apology’ and closing the indigenous health gap began early in the first year. All election promises have been delivered or are in train; some, such as the ‘education revolution’ were never promised to be complete in one year, others such as fast speed broadband are about six months behind schedule – bids to build it are due before the end of 2008.
2009 will be an even busier year as the reviews in progress come to fruition.
The ‘control freak’ criticism persists, but is scarcely sustainable after viewing just the first episode of The Howard Years where Howard is portrayed as ‘a one-man band’ who unilaterally made critical decisions with little reference to anyone else. That is what I call a ‘control freak’. There is now tacit acceptance by several journalists that Prime Ministers need to be hands-on and across all issues. The idea of Bob Hawke about a hands-off approach is outdated.
Some commentators have sought to criticize Rudd’s travel, although that has died down over his last two overseas visits, except for the Opposition that is still flogging the ‘Prime Tourist’ tag and 'Kevin747'. They are slow learners. When it all boils down, how many serious voters would have applauded Rudd staying at home when such momentous events were unfolding overseas? I would have been appalled if he had not travelled to represent our nation on the international scene.
The Rudd Government’s response to the GFC has been sound and timely, and is seen by most commentators as likely to be effective, although some, especially the Opposition, would have done it differently. The economic stimulus package has received wide applause, the bank guarantee more muted approval and some criticism, and the local government initiative a mixed reaction. Many believe the Government’s response to the GFC will be the making (or breaking) of the Government. So far the public’s reaction has been very positive
The Rudd ministry has performed well with highest marks 9/10 going to Julia Gillard (including her Acting PM performance) and Lindsay Tanner. Even Wayne Swan, who was criticized for earlier having his training wheels on, got 7/10. Rudd's political skills have been acknowledged by several commentators.
The balanced commentators give deserved praise to Rudd and his Government. Those who still carry a pro-Coalition bias are predictably reluctant to acknowledge achievement, and any they can scarcely avoid, such as good polling, are diluted with criticisms, many of which are paltry, some invalid. One wonders if they will, or even can change.