The risk in Rudd’s second turn at the helm

Australia needs a tough government to get it out of its current mess. Two looming decisions will show where Kevin Rudd stands.

Kevin Rudd in his acceptance speech went half way to telling Australians the truth about what was ahead for this country.

In doing so Rudd became the first Australian political leader to declare that the 10-year China resources boom for Australia was over. But he did not tell the rest of the story and reveal that the combination of bad government, bad management and militant unionism has made Australia a high-cost minerals producer and so our taxation revenue will suffer – and that means that the grandiose Gillard schemes are simply not fundable. The same applies to some of the Abbott plans.

Rudd also expressed enthusiasm for Australian manufacturing and said he would work with both large and small businesses. There is great scope here because Gillard’s anti-small enterprise policies and regulations were big factors in her downfall. But there is more to the story because Rudd faces two big decisions.  

In the next five weeks the Australian workforce will be watching to see whether General Motors Holden workers oppose their unions and agree to transfer ultimate control of the factory floor from the unions to the managers and take a pay cut.  If they don’t defy their union General Motors will stop making  Holden in Australia (Decision made: GM will shut without a labour deal, June 24). A Holden shutdown may also force Toyota to also stop carmaking in Australia and then almost the entire automotive manufacturing industry would close. The GMH worker vote will be a precedent that sets the pattern for either the end or the restoration of Australian manufacturing. Where will Rudd stand – with the union bosses or the workers’ jobs? 

Will Rudd continue the Gillard policy of fostering the big union/big builder cartel-style agreements that add between 20 per cent and 30 per cent to the cost of commercial building and infrastructure. Originally Rudd promised to stop the cartel-style agreements via a strong building commission but Gillard dumped the Rudd policy in favour of the big unions and big builders. Again, which way will Rudd go? With the end of the resources boom we can no longer afford to pay 20-30 or cent more for commercial building and infrastructure just to  keep big builders and big unions happy.

These are issues that go to the heart of whether a Rudd government will work for the nation or for its union support base.

It’s also now time to accept the truth about Australian governments. For almost nine years Australia has not had good leadership at the top and the country has suffered badly. The full ramifications of those nine years of sub-standard leadership will be felt in the 44th parliament.

During those nine years we have had three prime ministers: John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

John Howard was voted out of office on November 24, 2007.  In his final three years Howard was exhausted and had not governed well (as distinct from his first three terms where he was a great prime minister). 

In 2007 most of us thought Kevin Rudd would be a good prime minister. Unfortunately he was so bad that his colleagues dumped him. Then we thought Gillard would be up to the job. She might have been but she was promoted too early; did bad deals to gain power in the threatened hung parliament and always had Rudd on her heels. 

Just as we did not realise in advance the looming shortcomings in Howard’s last term and the failure of the prime ministerships of Rudd and Gillard so we will not know whether Abbott is up to it until he gets the job, assuming he wins the election.

If Rudd wins the 2013 election – and the Morgan poll taken after he beat Gillard said it was too close to call – we will find out whether Rudd really has changed. 

Whoever wins will need to be very good to get us out of the mess created by those nine bad years.

Meanwhile this morning many people in Canberra will start looking more closely at what they did in the lead-up to last night. For example my media colleagues in Canberra who love the thrill of the chase have played big roles in creating a Rudd legend. They ignore the fact that when he was prime minister Rudd was dumped because he could not do the job.

The Rudd supporters in caucus must also know that given that he was hopeless last time around. Rudd is a dangerous person to lead Australia for the next three years given it will be tougher.

It’s a time for strong hard government.  All Australians must hope that they get it in the 44th parliament but there is high risk.