Why Labor can’t face parliament

Kevin Rudd’s policy frenzy has created a real polling-date problem. If he fails to hold an election before parliament reconvenes, tension on both sides may boil over.

The long winter recess of parliament usually turns up a policy shift or two, or a few ‘announcables’ that can be debated when parliament resumes. But this year is different – debate is the last thing the government wants. 

In fact, when parliament rose in late June, nobody thought our representatives and senators would return to their respective chambers until a general election had been held, and a new government sworn in.

Well we got one of those. The Rudd 2.0 government was sworn in, but there was no general election. 

Now, Rudd’s frenzy of policy contortionism has put his government between a rock and a hard place. 

The rock is trying to name an election date that is soon enough to avoid having to face criticism of all the off-the-cuff policy changes in parliament. 

And the hard place is wanting to stretch out the timeline for an election to give the ‘PNG solution’ on seaborne refugees time to ‘work’ (that is, to suitably terrorise innocent families, while hoping to minimise stories of rape, malaria induced miscarriages, and various forms of trauma and mental illness).

Well now the prime minister’s too-clever scheme to get himself re-elected (oh, and Labor too) is stuck. Rudd can still call an election for September 7 or September 21 and avoid having to recall parliament.

However, if he pushes the date back, the only way to avoid Tony Abbott’s barbs in the House of Reps would be to cancel sitting days that have been on the parliamentary calendar all year. 

That would make the Rudd government look even more duplicitous that it already does, and would raise the outside possibility of Turnbull addressing the his party room with an offer to save this election for the Coalition (Rudd must call a snap election, or face Turnbull, July 19).

That would seem to lock in one of those dates.

Meanwhile, the list of personal compromises to fit in with the Rudd campaign continues. Andrew Leigh, surely one of the bright hopes for Labor’s future due to his balanced policy views and deep knowledge of economics, told Sky News yesterday that if Tony Abbott wants an election, he should reveal his policies.

Leigh said: “...we need from the Coalition now, more than ever, a commitment to transparency, we need them to come clear with policies. We still don’t have a health policy or an education policy from the Coalition, and we need them to do a little bit less bashing of senior public servants and a little bit more creative policy making. Because frankly, policy is generally made best in the open light of public gaze.”

Well he’s half right. Yes, policy is best made in the open light of public gaze. But no, Abbott should not reveal any more policies until Labor has named an election.

That’s because Labor is not making policies in the ‘open light’. 

We know the policy-making process behind schemes such as the PNG plan – they are hatched by Rudd, late at night over a chessboard on his coffee table as the unsleeping master of Machiavellianism ponders how next to out-manoeuvre the opposition, and his own party, to retake the throne that the people so lovingly gave him in 2007.

This has to stop. Proper policies, run through a proper cabinet – not a cabinet in which the most long-serving and most capable policy minds have refused to serve – and then given proper debate in the house of our elected representatives is what ‘open light’ looks like. 

The dark road to policy development has so far produced a carbon-price backflip, a ‘lurch to the right’ on refugees that Rudd himself promised we’d never see, a return-to-surplus pledge that Labor until recently argued would be reckless.

The polls are poised on a knife edge: Roy Morgan polling says victory would go to Labor, 52 per cent to 48 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis. Essential Media says it’s 51/49 to the Coalition. 

The tension on both sides of politics is rising day by day and something just has to give before the principles of good governance are compromised any further. 

An election date would be a good start. Presumably then, if Abbot says “I’ll build a hospital in Hobart!” Rudd won’t have time, or the gall, to say “I’ll build a bigger one!”

And with two sets of policies laid out before them the people can choose the side they think will return Australia to good governance. 

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