Late in the election campaign, as Australians firmed in their resolve to throw Labor out, a study appeared that suggested the nationwide demand for change might be mistaken.
According to the study, completed by academics at our largest federal crèche, Canberra’s Australian National University, households were better off under Labor than they had ever been under the Coalition. As you’d expect, this information was gratefully seized upon by the government and its supporters. ‘Labor’s world-recognised management of the economy through the GFC has flowed through to households,’ crowed treasurer Chris Bowen.
As you’d also expect, voters completely disregarded the study. One thing we’ve learnt over the past six years is that the Australian economy, built upon decades of reform by successive Hawke, Keating and Howard governments, is now largely immune — at least on a macro level — from Canberra’s meddling.
Voters are aware that Labor has the same relationship to the nation’s economic health as a wastrel teenage heir does to the family fortune. The kid might spend all of his excessive allowance and crash the odd BMW here or there, in the manner of Kevin Rudd’s fringe benefits tax proposals harming car sales, but even the stupidest rich teen would struggle to bring down an entire successful business.
Which is just as well, because since 2007 we’ve been governed by children.
Almost all of Labor’s major policy decisions, and the party-wrecking feud between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, are easily understood in terms of either an infant’s impulsiveness or a teenager’s wicked mood swings.
Take the government’s allegedly ‘world-recognised management of the economy through the GFC’, for example. This was Labor’s attempt to protect us from financial ruin by throwing away all of our savings. Babies love chucking stuff around.
Border protection wasn’t a problem in 2007 when Labor came to power, because years of adult supervision had ended asylum seeker arrivals and all but emptied Australia’s detention centres. Labor’s response might have emerged directly from a teenager’s moralistic ruminations on how mean and cruel grown-ups can be. Let’s be nicer to the people on those boats. What possible damage could it cause?
The outcome: more than 1,000 deaths at sea and detention centres loaded like Saturday night’s champagne-chugging Coalition celebrators.
There is no more immature impulse than the desire to save the whole world. Planet-rescuing storylines drove adventure comic books for generations and now fuel the fantasies of Greens and other perma-children. Labor took those fantasies mainstream by imposing a carbon tax, which aimed to safeguard our existence by cutting Australia’s carbon output from around 1.4 per cent of the globe’s human-created output to very slightly less than 1.4 per cent.
On environmental matters, Labor freely admitted taking its cues from Australia’s pre-adult community. Addressing the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, Kevin Rudd read a letter he’d received from a six-year-old Canberra girl: ‘Hi, my name is Gracie. How old are you? I am writing to you because I want you all to be strong in Copenhagen. Please listen to us as it is our future.’
If Gracie were a make-up artist or an RAAF flight attendant or Wayne Swan or any other member of Labor’s cabinet, Rudd would probably have dashed her letter to the floor and yelled obscenities at it. Because she was a six-year-old, however, Rudd attempted to turn her concerns into policy. ‘I fear that at this conference,’ he told the UN’s weather worriers, ‘we are on the verge of letting little Gracie down.’
Fear not for poor little Gracie. She’s still at least eight years away from paying taxes, by which time a sensible adult government should have paid off Labor’s debt (again).
Eight years might also be the time needed to work out why Labor’s 2013 election campaign was so stunningly childish, what with Rudd’s abrupt everything-fixing policy declarations and his party’s patent fear of Tony Abbott, who seems by any reasonable estimations to be a sincere, rational person.
The campaign gave us Labor’s immature approach to government in intense, distilled form. Recall statesman Rudd posing as a global titan after hearing of Syria’s chemical weapons atrocity. Why, nothing would be allowed to stand between Rudd and a Syrian solution, not even his own re-election. And then he flew to Brisbane that same day to film a cooking show with the ABC’s Annabel Crabb.
Another highlight came at the government’s campaign launch, where Thérèse Rein confirmed impressions that the Prime Minister is an overreaching scatterbrain. Remarkably, this anecdote was approved by Labor’s campaign chiefs: ‘I want to introduce a husband who, when sent to Bunnings for a mozzie candle, comes back with Roman flares, Blu Tack, an extension cord, potting mix, a stepladder, secateurs – but no mozzie candle.’ Take it away, Sammy Davis Jr.:
Who goes to a Bunnings, to buy some mozzie cures?
Comes home with a ladder and a pair of secateurs.
The Candle Man! Oh, the Candle Man can.
Some prime ministers are said to grow in office. Rudd accomplished the exact opposite. In his mercifully brief second term, Rudd shrank to the dimensions of a grasping Queensland huckster, promising whatever it might take to seal the deal. He loomed larger as a backbencher, convincing Labor that he could reclaim power. But, in the end, all Kevin Rudd delivered was Kevin Rudd.
Note: this piece was written prior to Saturday’s election. In the event of a Labor win, I deserve a far greater punishment than mere national humiliation. To that end, following the Coalition’s defeat, I will drive to the house of Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis, who has consistently predicted a Labor victory, and take a carload of his laundry home with me to be washed, ironed, folded and even darned.
And sew it goes.
Tim Blair is a columnist at the Daily Telegraph in Sydney.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 7 September 2013 Aus