It’s no wonder that rusted on ALP supporters are disappointed in the achievements of the Rudd/Gillard administrations. Between the twin pillars of over-consulting and under-communicating, the government might just be too busy to do anything else.
Rewind to 2010: there was the small matter of the Spillard, followed by an election. With benefit of hindsight, it appears that the ALP waltzed into an election they called, completely unprepared to stand on their own record. Casual election watchers tuned in to see the incumbent government, led by an inexperienced and unpopular Prime Minister, campaign seemingly without a record of achievement.
Somehow they forgot that Australia merely grazed the boundaries of the GFC. It’s the monument that shadows the Prime Ministership of Kevin Rudd, and should’ve been the diamond in the campaign crown. We were, for those grey months at the pit of the GFC, the envy of the developed world.
So successful was Australia’s defiance of the GFC that many punters – and at least one former PM – have denied its existence in this country, writing it off as a northern hemisphere blip. It wasn’t; the threat was real. Australia’s escape from the GFC can be attributed to a combination of many factors: a honking great surplus (thank you, Mr Howard), our relationship with China, our banking system, sustained population growth, overpriced housing and…drumroll…buckets of stimulus. Maybe too much stimulus, but in this case, I'd rather see too much than too little.
We had a lot in our favour, but had those advantages been mismanaged, we could’ve been in just as deep as other similar countries. Let’s be honest: The Rudd government steered us safely around the edges of the GFC. Isn’t that something to put on the resume?
So how is it that the ALP failed to take that message out during the federal election campaign last year? The ALP didn’t just fail to sell the message, it failed to get it noticed at all. Now, the mere mention of the government’s measures to address the GFC is met with choruses of “But you squandered our precious, life-giving surplus with BER and Pink Batts" from the right.
That’s a cracker of a comeback, but it’s not insurmountable. Brad Orgill’s report on the BER School Stimulus Programme scored it as a success. When gauging the worth of any project, you must look at how the results stack up beside the objectives. In the case of the BER, it was an economic stimulus programme first and foremost. It did support around 120,000 jobs, it did pump over $10b into an economy under threat. Was is a success? Yes.
Why weren’t the ALP spokesfolk screaming this from podiums and press releases?
Surely not because the Coalition can point to some BER school projects where funds were wasted, quality was questionable or need was overlooked? Yeah, it sounds really bad when you say it like that. It’s true though. Implementation of the BER was not perfect, and it was worst of all in NSW, where the ALP government struggles to run a chook raffle, much less the state.
Factor in that about one-third of BER funds, around $5.4b, have yet to be used. It seems that the GFC is over, so it’s unlikely that the Government is holding those funds for further stimulus. I for one, would like to know how they’re going to be used. Please?
The other stimulus bogey-man is the Home Insulation Programme. It’s hard to be up-beat about a scheme that is linked to 4 deaths. Much smaller than the BER in funding terms at just $2.5b, we’re now looking at around an extra half a billion to clean up the mess. The official report concluded that the scheme was too expensive, poorly regulated, and had damaged the reputations of the industry and the public service. I can’t disagree with any of those things…and yet the truth remains that the scheme was designed first and foremost as economic stimulus. Take the emotion out of the assessment, and you see a scheme that created up to 10,000 jobs during the worst months of the financial crisis.
Obviously I’m not suggesting we take a Shit Happens approach to the shortcomings of the Home Insulation Programme, or that we allow those 4 deaths to be diminished in any way. I am suggesting that we shine a light on it, and learn from it.
In a decision I can see only as bizarre, the official report by the auditor-general made no recommendations as the scheme had already been closed down.
That’s not good enough. Why hasn’t the Government taken it upon themselves to incorporate the lessons from the Home Insulation Programme into the processes used in all Government projects. Why aren’t we talking more about improving risk management, demanding better documentation, and implementing a requirement that such programmes only involve industries where workforce, standards and materials are regulated? Such a decision would be more in keeping with the ALP’s ideological origins. And if any of that has happened, why is it a secret?
It’s almost impossible to prove that the ALP’s stimulus measures saved Australia from economic ruin. How can you prove that jobs were saved when they weren’t actually lost? How can you say we were saved from the GFC when we didn’t actually have the GFC? It’s like that old Sesame Street sketch:
Bert: "Hey, you've got a banana in your ear!"
Ernie: "I know, I'm keeping the alligators away."
Bert: "But there aren't any alligators on Sesame Street!"
Ernie: "I know. it's working!"
The fact remains that Australia did avoid the worst if the GFC, and while the surplus and our trading relationship with China gave us a headstart, the credit must go to the government of the day. Why did the ALP forget to mention that during the campaign? It's just bananas.