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Only good policy will save Labor


Following Government whip Joel Fitzgibbon's comments on the ABC's Q&A last week, it was clear there is a growing consensus that 'time is running out for Julia Gillard'.

It's commonly assumed that this refers to the need for her to turn around her performance in the opinion polls, as if that is an end in itself. But electors are more interested in a government that can enact good policy for the wellbeing of the country, and time is running out for her to do that before the 2013 election.

When Labor was elected in 2007, Kevin Rudd was given a mandate to respond to the 'great moral and economic challenge of our time' with legislation for a carbon emissions trading scheme. He lost his nerve and trashed the mandate. Voters subsequently trashed Labor because Gillard maintained the fixation with opinion polls that had caused Rudd's downfall.

The passage of time showed that it didn't make a great deal of difference whether the leader was Gillard or Rudd. In all likelihood, it doesn't really matter who leads Labor to the 2013 election. What is more important is that they are able to demonstrate good policy achievement with a minimum of political compromise made to secure the popular vote.

Labor's judgment on the degree of necessary political  compromise has been lacking. It is consequently on track to allowing the Coalition to win the 2013 election by default.

Miriam Lyons of the Centre for Policy Development writes of good policy ideas that are considered 'politically toxic'. An example is the inheritance tax recommended by the Henry Review. It would be a 'fair and efficient' solution to the problem of a shrinking revenue stream that comes with an ageing population. Such ideas are often championed by conservative groups, with the International Energy Agency wanting fossil fuel subsidies eliminated and warning that we must stop building coal-fired power plants within five years.

Back in 2010, the Edmund Rice Centre published a background paper in its Just Comment series. It fleshed out Tony Abbott's stated vision at the time for a 'kinder, gentler polity' that he thought might enable him to work with the Independents in a minority government. 

Tony Windsor, whom Abbott was courting, favoured kindness and gentility, rather than bashing heads or killing good policy. Windsor's approach to dealing with the rural backlash to the politically challenging Murray-Darling water buyback scheme was to acknowledge there was no 'one size fits all' solution. Politicians had to visit farming communities to 'walk slowly with the people that are affected and see if there's a range of options that will fit their particular stressed circumstance'.  

Gaining the trust of the electorate, rather than stoking fears about invasions of boat people or industrial relations reforms, is a better way to win an election. But it takes time. And yes, it is running out.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Gillard, Rudd, Labor, ALP, policy, Australian politics, WIndsor, Abbott, CPD, Miriam Lyons



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Existing comments

The lack of policy on both sides of the political debate is frightening. We have a crippled government, leaning for support on independents and the Greens - and now trying to distance itself from them for their own political expediency. We then have the Opposition - which is exactly what it is. They oppose everything pretty much - but they are not the elected government and cannot be accountable until they themselves win the next election. It is the saddest of 'new paradigms.' It promised much but has delivered much that is tainted due to lies, innuendo, a rush for political advantage. The ALP is indeed in very unsafe hands as it races to the bottom over refugee issues and trying to pretend that work places relations will deteriorate. They are not that good at present.

Jacki | 23 July 2012  

In various words, it has often been said that democracy is imperfect but better than any other form of government that has been tried. Nevertheless one weakness is the danger of instability when no party or coalition has a clear majority – as is now the case. Julia Gillard has to deal with this problem in addition to the heavy load of normal government. A fair judgement is that Julia Gillard is doing a good job despite having one hand tied behind her back.

Bob Corcoran | 23 July 2012  

The current Labor government has had a number of good policies but nevertheless is a failure and nothing it would seem will save it. Maybe its biggest problem is that over half its parliamentarians have cut their teeth one way or another in the service of trade unions and thus represent at most 6% of the voting public now that union membership represents only 18% of the workforce. This is compounded by the Labor Party policy of 50% female representation,and a non-democratic preselection process not necessarily dependent on ability. All this added to by a prime minister who is perceived by the public as "un-Australian", whatever that might mean. Most people believe, I think, the the position of Prime Minister is a dignified one. For his sins, Kevin Rudd displayed dignity in his diplomatic dealings and in the famous Apology to the Aboriginal people, widely praised by the vast majority of Australians. The current incumbent has brought nothing of dignity to the position and the Labor Party will pay for that quite apart from its non-representative constitution. Nothing will save them. "Good policy" has already failed the government miserably.

john frawley | 23 July 2012  

Mr. Mullins writes,
"What is more important is that they are able to demonstrate good policy achievement with a minimum of political compromise made to secure the popular vote."
That won't happen because the Murdoch press, and the ABC, along with the commercial outlets head off every opportunity the government should have to explain their policies and achievements, of which there are many!
Tony Abbott has survived with nothing more than slogans for two years, and the media trail after him like sheep. Why don't they scrutinise him and apply the same tactics as they do to the Prime Minister?

Journalist quizzing journalists and, oddly, all agreeing with each other, does not help the public discourse.
Bob Corcoran is right to say "Julia Gillard is doing a good job despite having one hand tied behind her back".

P. Oliver | 23 July 2012  

The article assumes that the Australian political landscape are inhabited by people who understand "good policy achievement with a minimum of political compromise" or indeed, what is a "good policy". The fact that someone like Abbott can bamboozle the Australian electors with his unsubstantiated and simplistic scaremongering tactics clearly demonstrate our lack of (political) clear thinking. We are saturated with a dominent rightwing propaganda that mislead and misinform the voting population. Political ideals are now replaced by self interest rather than the common good. It's well and good to speak of a "range of options that will fit (someone's) particular stressed circumstance". But what if the protagonists cannot see the "options" in the first place?
Our focus should not stop at our own front door. Beyond the metaphorical white painted picket fence of our dreams is a world that, like it or not, we're part of it. So far, most of us live in a vacuum of self interest, hubris and delusion.
Perhaps what we need is a re-education of how to live in a democracy and be responsible for all its shortcomings as well.
After all, there's only 22 million of us and if anyone can do it, we can.

Alex Njoo | 23 July 2012  

Instead of waiting for good policy to save the Labor party? why Eureka Street dosen't writes about the good policies that are Pro-God, Pro-Family and Pro-Life of the following political parties, such as the Lib Party, Nat, CDP and DLP. WE need a Federal government that looks after all Australians, not just the Labor party and the Greens who want to impose their ideas on how we all should live.

Ron Cini | 23 July 2012  

I blame Rudd's framing of the issue of addressing climate change as the 'great moral and economic challenge of our time' for much of the ALP's subsequent difficulty. Climate change is NOT a moral or economic issue, it is a perfectly straightforward environmental issue which is addressed by technological transformation. That Rudd and the ALP then confounded their error by insisting on emissions trading, thereby exposing the economic well-being of all Australians to the depredations and obscene greed of financial institutions and market traders IS the moral issue. The ALP's insistence on "cap-and-trade" schemes reveals the moral vacuum at the ALP's heart, much as HSU machinations exposes the moral vacuum that has hijacked the union movement. If you reckon we've achieved a free-market approach to emissions reductions, you've been snowed. The only genuine market mechanism is to set a consumption tax on fossil fuel (FFCT), then adjust it up or down to achieve the emissions target you want, and adjust other tax rates around that FFCT.

David Arthur | 24 July 2012  

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