Where is the chaos narrative now?

After a period of complicated legislation building under Julia Gillard, Labor’s rushing into a bunch of revisionist policies. And somehow, it’s being taken with a straight face.

The history of the Gillard years will require a good deal of revision before we think we know ‘what happened’.

Anyone who thinks that’s a simple process should reflect on what we now ‘know’ about John Howard and the GST – Howard’s audacious backflip on the “never-ever” tax didn’t create an impoverished underclass, but did make in-roads into reducing tax evasion and gave a small filip to investment rather than consumption spending.

That’s not what the papers said at the time of its painful birth, of course. Good policy takes time to work. And, more importantly, good policy takes time to design and implement.

Over the Gillard years there were a number of hasty policy proposals.

The MRRT was negotiated under siege, behind closed doors and outside of the cabinet approval process.

Live cattle exports were stopped, overnight, in reaction to an ABC report on animal cruelty.

Stephen Conroy’s media regulation package was thrust into the public arena with too little consultation, and with an onerous deadline for implementation.

And even ‘boats’ policy amendments were scribbled down by independent Rob Oakeshott at the eleventh hour in an attempt to break the impasse created by major-party pig-headedness in relation to Labor’s ‘Malaysia Solution’ being ruled unconsitutional by the High Court.

‘Chaos!’ shouted the headlines. ‘Chaos from an illegitimate, incompetent, bunch of liars!’

Meanwhile in the background, the Gillard government worked through a solid cabinet process, and much consultation, to deliver some very complicated and thorough policies – first the ‘diabolically difficult’ carbon pricing package. Then the health-funding reforms, National Disability Insurance Scheme, Gonski education reforms, superannuation reforms and so on.

That was the backdrop to ‘chaos’ and those policies will be the legacy some of Labor’s most talented politicians – many of whom have joined the party exodus since Kevin Rudd regained the role of prime minister last Wednesday.  Big hitters such as Greg Combet, Simon Crean, Stephen Smith and Craig Emerson are taking much of Labor’s best ‘corporate knowledge’ with them.

In their wake a Rudd ministry has been sworn in, featuring plenty of new blood, and some old – the likes of Penny Wong, Tony Burke, Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten are spread more thinly now, shoring up some of the less experienced ministers.

The greatly weakened ministry is now hard at work reviewing all kinds of policies ahead of the election – which could be any time between August and November.

There’s clearly a push to ‘get tough’ on asylum seekers, despite the UN slamming Bob Carr for asserting that most boat arrivals are economic migrants.

There’s revised timetables for consultation on the Gonski reforms – two more weeks for the states to get on board, and an extra month for Catholic and independent schools.

Rudd has himself challenged Abbott to a debate on “debt and deficit” issues, which could signal his willingness to move deeper into Keynsian-style stimulus spending to offset the weakening economy.

Four ministers have been despatched to sell the NBN’s benefits – Sharon Bird to look at regional broadband issues, Kate Lundy to manage the ‘digital economy’, Ed Husic as parliamentary secretary, and Anthony Albanese to, well, be their boss.

And a hasty revision of the fixed-price period of the carbon tax is rumoured to be high on cabinet’s agenda.

Is this good governance? Is this sound policy making? Or might not this helter-skelter process be more about saving Labor MP’s jobs at the next election, with three years afterward to sort out the real policies that Australia needs?

Somehow this is all being taken by the news media with a straight face, as if these were the rushed reforms we needed all along.

The journalists who so gleefully ran the ‘chaos narrative’ through the latter part of the Gillard years (Gillard’s ghost of chaos past, February 5) would be more justified in running it now. 

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