Kevin Rudd, ‘Fiscal’ Conservative?

 

Just over a year since the Howard Government was thrown unceremoniously from power, with their leader, John Howard, losing his own seat (his party didn’t have the guts to dump him, but the voters did) it is an appropriate time to take stock of the Labor Government under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Perhaps there was a portent of the direction and flavour of the incoming government on the night of the election, when, flushed with the euphoria of victory and more than a glass or two of celebratory drinks, we endured Mr Rudd delivering an uninspiring cliche-ridden speech in a flat monotone. Anything was better than John Howard though, and we lived in hope of a more tolerant society.

 

Within a couple of months, Rudd signed Australia up to the Kyoto protocol, and delivered an inspiring, eloquent and emotional apology to the ‘stolen generations,’ those Aboriginal people taken from their parents and institutionalised during the greater part of the last century. Rudd’s speech, and the occasion, epitimises the high point of the government’s tenure in the eyes of many Labor supporters. Aided by the election of Brendon Nelson to the position of Liberal Party leader, (a walking carcass from the moment he was chosen) and his recent replacement with Malcolm Turnbull, (a more worthy opponent but yet to land a blow), Rudd’s rating remains high. His mantra of being a fiscal conservative during the lead-up to the election has proved to be true, and no doubt appropriate for the times, with few questioning his prompt moves to stimulate the economy. I do, however, have my reservations about this government’s conservative approach to other than the fiscal management of the country. 

During the lead up to the last election, John Howard’s most notable contribution to a rapport with the Aboriginal people was to wave his fists and shout at them, at, of all places, the televised launch of the main Reconciliation conference meant to further this process. This was the nearest he got to reconciliation, and without his support the reconciliation movement passed into irrelevance. 

Miraculously, months before the last election, John Howard rediscovered the Aboriginal people. The catalyst was a report called ‘Little Children are Sacred’ which suggested that the sexual abuse of children was rife in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Howard decided to intervene, under the pretense that he was ‘saving the children’, with the support of his well meaning but autocratic minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough. Brough, an ex army officer, literally sent the troops in; to examine children for molestation, to check their general health, and to undertake maintenance of essential services in these remote communities. 

The intervention went much further though. Social security payments were to be controlled, in that half would be paid in money, and the rest in food vouchers. In addition, the Commonwealth would take control of Aboriginal lands in the Northern Territory until further notice. Aboriginal people found that not only would they not be able to access all of their welfare money, but that it would be decreed where the food vouchers could be spent, meaning that food stores not on that list suffered a huge fall in sales, while the option of choice for the shoppers was curtailed. The Racial Discrimination Act, for the purposes of the intervention, was ‘suspended’.

The Government also decided to control the wages of those receiving CDEP payments. CDEP provides work and wages for thousands of people in the NT, for performing work such as rubbish collection, road works, ranger duties, working in the community stores, ect., but when the government realised they could not purloin these wages, they simply decided to discontinue CDEP altogether. All of this served to make John Howard seem to be the man of action with regard to dealing with the alleged child abuse, while disempowering Aboriginal people with action more akin to the 19th century. The Labor party decided that rather than allow the issue to ‘wedge’ them in the lead-up to the election, that they would go along with all that Howard proposed. 

Under the new Aboriginal Minister, Jenny Macklin, we see that twelve months later little has changed. Macklin authorised an enquiry into the intervention which reported a few months ago with a host of recommended changes. She binned the lot, dealing a slap in the face of those who prepared the report. 

The fiscally conservative government is now looking decidedly conservative, not only on Aboriginal issues but on many other issues as well. Howard lackeys who were rewarded for imprisoning children, supporting an illegal war, denigrating refugees, and untruthfully stating that refugees had thrown their children overboard, are still sitting in plum jobs overseas. When an Indian Doctor working in Australia was wrongfully arrested on terrorism charges by the Howard government, charges which a recent report has shown lacked substance, the Rudd Government decided that no-one needed to be punished. The current slaughter of innocents in the Gaza strip by the biggest weapons of mass destruction owners in the middle east, elicits little concern from the Rudd Government, who mouth the same simplistic homilies as the Bush administration, who see only the white hat Israeli ‘goodies’ and the black hat Palestinian ‘baddies’.

Despite these reservations of mine towards Kevin Rudd, I am reminded of the ugly and mean spirited racist who preceded him this week, when it was announced that John Howard is to be awarded the US Medal of Freedom next week by his partner in crime George Bush, the village idiot who became President. It seems that Howard will be staying in Blair House, where guests of the White House usually stay. For this reason, the President elect Barack Obama has been unable to use this facility as he moves into Washington in preparation to take over from Bush on the 20th January. No doubt Obama, like Rudd, will not turn out to be all that we hoped for, but as two of the most discredited people ever to assume power celebrate their final love-in together, we can only be thankful that soon they shall both be gone. Despite all of the challenges the new leaders face as we step shakily into 2009, things can only get better.

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