I was just 14 years old when Whitlam’s Labor Government stormed into office in 1972, but I still remember the feeling of excitement and anticipation that ‘something big’ had just happened and that Australia would never be the same again.
Once in office, Whitlam set to implementing his policies with iron resolve and an almost unseemly haste. Well may we question the fiscal responsibility of the Whitlam government but we still live with the benefits of their brave, take no prisoners reforms: multiculturalism, Medicare, free university education and the first moves towards Aboriginal reconciliation to name just a few.
I felt the same sense of breathless anticipation when Rudd was elected. He was young, energetic, ambitious and seemed intent on sweeping aside the crushing conservatism of the Howard years, just as Whitlam had done thirty-five years before. He started boldly with an apology to the Stolen Generation – surely this foreshadowed a commitment to other social justice issues? He followed with the 2020 summit, giving ordinary Australians input into building a vision for Australia’s future. We dared to hope for an inclusive, representative government that would actually listen to what the ordinary citizens of Australia really wanted.
Sold a Pup
Do you know the feeling when you see a trailer for a movie and think ‘that’s going to be amazing’, but when you actually see the film you realize the only good bits were in the preview and even they don’t move the story along much? That’s how I feel about the Rudd government. We were sold a pup. Up front we got a big, glossy, exciting bells-and-whistles wind-up, but the whole thing just turned out to be a disappointing flop that failed for want of good direction.
Rudd may have patiently listened to your views at the 2020 summit but he has since rejected all of your silly ideas and just gone on his own merry, conservative, non-consultative way. He may have apologised to the Stolen Generation, but what has he done for indigenous people since?
The Rudd government is not the reformist government we expected. Rudd is not the alternative to Howard we were promised. Rudd is just Howard in a blonde wig. He has sold out the Labor left. Indeed, there are even some of us who considered ourselves more centrists than lefties – and even we are left feeling that the political rug has been pulled out from under our feet.
The overwhelming feeling of those who have been hung out to dry by a party many have supported all their lives is anger, betrayal and dismay.
Prior to his election, Rudd claimed to be a Christian socialist. He now claims he has never been a socialist. (I’m just waiting for the day he concedes he’s never been a Christian either!) Citing Bonhoeffer as his inspiration, Rudd had us believing that his was a religionless Christianity steeped in a commitment to social justice rather than religious dogma. We expected a liberal Christian – what we got was a new best friend for the arch-conservative extreme right-wing religious nutters at the Australian Christian Lobby.
The Exclusive Brethren and Other Cults
Prior to his election, Rudd denounced the Exclusive Brethren as a ‘dangerous cult’. After his election Rudd’s government continued to provide millions of dollars to the cult enabling them to keep their children isolated from the general population and actively dissuade them from pursuing tertiary studies. Further, Labor has refused to support the inquiry into the tax status of Scientology proposed by Senator Nick Xenophon, frightened that it may open a Pandora’s Box regarding the tax-exempt status of more mainstream religious institutions. Neatly brushing the issue aside, Senator Ludwig said that the government preferred to wait for the results of the Henry Tax Review – the recommendations of which have since been substantially rejected.
Bill of Rights
In more sleight of hand, Rudd agreed to a public inquiry into an Australian Bill of Rights. Ignoring the blatant conflict of interest, he appointed Father Frank Brennan to head the inquiry, despite the Catholic Church’s official opposition to the concept. Reflecting the strength of feeling encountered in the public consultations, Brennan’s National Human Rights Consultation committee recommended the adoption of a Human Rights Act but Rudd’s government refused to accept the recommendation of its own inquiry. Adding salt to the wound, the Liberal Party controlled Menzies Research Centre claimed the defeat of the Bill of Rights as ‘a significant victory for the Menzies Research Centre and the Coalition’. Just remind me, who is Rudd supposed to be representing – the Labor party, the majority of Australians or the Liberal conservatives?
With a self-confessed Christian socialist in charge, we may well have hoped that the Rudd Government would foster a kinder, more understanding public response to refugees rather than pandering to ill-informed populist scare-mongering. Perhaps they might launch an education campaign to explain why asylum seekers are neither ‘illegal’ nor ‘queue jumpers’. But no. Rudd’s approach to refugees has ceded to the same conservative populism which fed Howard’s policies. In fact, more and more, the Rudd solution leans towards the Howard government’s inhumane position of indefinite mandatory detention.
And so to homosexuals. In his article, “Faith in Politics”, Rudd said: “I see very little evidence that this pre-occupation with sexual morality is consistent with the spirit and content of the Gospels. For example, there is no evidence of Jesus of Nazareth expressly preaching against homosexuality.” But, when Rudd’s liberal views on homosexuality were put to the test, he folded. Rather than support the ACT’s move to allow gay marriage as a positive reform, Rudd’s government overturned it.
On climate change Rudd came out with all guns blazing. Climate change, he said, striking a statesmanlike pose, is ‘the great moral and economic challenge of our time’. His government’s Emissions Trading Scheme, he assured us, was one of the ‘most important structural reforms to our economy in a generation’. When getting the ETS through became too hard, however, Rudd did a Scarlett O’Hara – “Oh, fiddle-dee-dee, I’ll think about that tomorrow” – and stuck his climate change reforms in a drawer marked 2013. I have a vision of Rudd in a Scarlett O’Hara bonnet, driving his carriage out of town lickety-split as Atlanta … er … Australia burns behind him.
The Rudd government’s $43 billion National Broadband Network is already being criticized as an outdated white elephant – even before the scheme has been introduced. Further, Senator Stephen Conroy, Rudd’s Minister for Communications is pushing a hugely unpopular, $125.8 million mandatory internet filter which will put Australians’ freedom of information on par with countries like China and Iran – and, if the IT experts are correct, substantially slow internet speeds. And it’s not just a few computer geeks grumbling about the assault on Australians’ freedom. In January, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that internet freedom was central to American foreign policy and that the US would actively resist efforts by governments seeking to censor the internet. Subsequently, the Obama government has raised its concerns about the plan with the Australian Government while child protection agencies have noted that the filter will have no effect whatsoever in protecting children from sexual predators or abuse.
Many rank and file Labor voters are astounded that a Labor government would even consider a policy that undermines Australians’ basic freedoms and dismayed to find that Rudd and Conroy are working, hand in glove, with the right-wing Australian Christian Lobby on the implementation of the scheme. In fact, in December it was revealed that the results of Conroy’s internet filtering trial had been shared exclusively with the Australian Christian Lobby – leaving other stakeholders out in the cold.
One has to ask what backroom deals have been done between the Rudd Government, Conroy, Family First Party Senator Fielding and the Australian Christian Lobby to make Labor ignore the advice of IT experts and child welfare agencies and risk the ire, not only of the vast majority of internet users but the American government? Is the Labor government selling us out to the right-wing conservatives for 30 pieces of electoral silver?
National School Chaplaincy Program
And then we have the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP). This ridiculous scheme was instituted by the Howard Government. According to the Australian Secular Lobby, even the Coalition never intended it as a long-term policy. But, to the dismay of Labor voters, it has not only been continued, but expanded under Rudd. I am sure I’m not the only one who shudders to think what the evangelical chaplains provided by the Scripture Union are telling young people who confide in them about same-sex attraction, pre-marital sex, or unwanted pregnancies. If our children need support and advice within the school system surely this should come from qualified, unbiased counselors – not from largely unqualified people with a clear religious agenda? The NSCP is yet more evidence that Rudd has sold out the Labor party to the conservative right.
As the Australian Secular Lobby rightly says:
“The question for ordinary tax-paying Australians must be, “Do we elect politicians to make decisions in the openness of parliament and in the full glare of the media, or are we happy to have secretive evangelical groups undertaking ‘quiet work’ to determine what is, or is not, in Australia’s ‘national interest’?”
Left Right Out
In the Sunday Age today, national political reporter, Josh Gordon writes:
“Understandably, the left today might be feeling a tad disillusioned and disenfranchised … One prominent Labor backbencher said there was a growing perception that Rudd had sacrificed the aspirations of traditional rank-and-file supporters in a Howard-esque pitch to swinging voters.
”We are getting quite a lot of emails which are critical of the positions that have been taken about carbon trading and asylum seekers,” the MP said. ”If you show up at ALP branch meetings you do see a certain amount of frowns and folded arms and so on. I think there is some concern among the leadership base about those things.”
The MP is right and I have some inside information that an internal Labor Party poll shows that Rudd’s overt religiosity and pandering to the religious right is a matter of considerable concern within the party. Traditional Labor voters are disillusioned, disenfranchised, angry and betrayed. Rudd has left the left right out. He promised a Labor government and delivered a Liberal conservative government in all but name.
Further, Rudd’s efforts to woo the ‘moral majority’ for Labor doesn’t seem to be doing him much good. This week’s Newspoll results show the Rudd government trailing the Coalition on a two-party basis (49-51 per cent) with an 11-point drop in the PM’s satisfaction rating to 39 per cent. Fifty per cent of voters, it appears, are dissatisfied with Rudd’s performance. Seems those votes the Australian Christian Lobby promised you just weren’t worth the price, Kev!
A vote for the Greens may well be a vote for Labor – for now – but the Greens are gaining in strength, attracting a broader base and, at the next election, it is highly likely that Labor’s left will desert in large numbers. Rudd and his cronies would do well to look at the UK election results in which the Liberal Democrats now hold the balance of power and will largely determine who leads the country. The left may be disenfranchised, Kevin, but we don’t necessarily need you to win.
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Abbott’s Contrasting Role Revealed in Black and White by Leslie Cannold for a similar analysis of the Opposition leader.
The Legacy of the Whitlam Government – Modia Minotaur – Friday, November 11, 2005
Are Asylum Seekers Illegal? – Asylum Seeker Project – Hotham Mission
Politics and religion: crossed paths – David Marr, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 December 2009
A matter of church and state, Amanda Davey, Mosman Daily, 5 April 2010
Faith in Politics, Kevin Rudd, The Monthly, October 2006
Rudd’s dangerous climate retreat, Paul Kelly, The Australian, 29 April 2010
US reveals concerns over Conroy’s net filter plan, Paul Colgan, The Punch, 29 March 2010
Conroy will be censoring people, not the internet, Nina Funnell, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 December 2009
Rudd praises ‘quiet work’ of evangelicals: evangelicals undermine Liberal Party and ‘national interest’, Australian Secular Lobby
Figures prove hard for PM to swallow, Michelle Grattan – The Age, 5 May 2010
Policies Overboard, Josh Gordon – Sunday Age, 9 May 2010
1. Consider supporting the Australian Greens at the next election – particularly in the Senate. It is not a ‘wasted’ vote, if your Green candidate fails to win, your full vote will go to your next preference. You do not have to preference according to the Green’s ‘how to vote’ card – you may choose your preferences according to your own wishes. If Labor only wins because of Green’s preferences that sends a strong message to them about where their support is coming from.
2. Write to your local Federal Labor representative stating your dissatisfaction at the direction the Rudd Labor Government has taken.
3. Donate to the High Court Challenge which seeks to expose the government’s National School Chaplaincy Scheme as unconstitutional. (Paypal now available.)
4. Electronic Frontiers provides a list of ten things you can do to stop Conroy’s internet censorship scheme.
5. Write to Senator Nick Xenophon stating your support for an inquiry into Scientology and other similar organizations.
Level 2, 31 Ebenezer Place, Adelaide 5000
6. Collect signatures on a petition for Equal Marriage Rights in Australia
7. Join the Facebook Group Kevin Rudd’s Lies and Broken Promises and invite your friends to join.
Gladly’s Book Recommendations
Gladly reckons his crossed eyes make him lean towards the left. He wonders if Kevin’s lurch toward the right and apparent short-sightedness might be corrected with a visit to a good optometrist. If you liked this article you might be interested in reading further from Gladly’s favourite online bookstore, Embiggen Books.
A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam’s Life in Politics by Graham Freudenberg
It’s Time Again: Whitlam and Modern Labor by Colleen Lewis and Jenny Hocking
Dear Mr Rudd: Ideas for a Better Australia by Robert Manne
Exit Right: The Unravelling of John Howard by Judy Brett
God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australian Politics by Marion Maddox
Beautiful Lies: Australia from Menzies to Howard by Tony Griffiths
Behind the Exclusive Brethen by Michael Bachelard
The Statute of Liberty: How Australians can take back their human rights by Geoffrey Robertson
The Purple Economy: Supernatural Charities, Tax and the State by Max Wallace
Realizing Secularism: Australia and New Zealand by Max Wallace
Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change by Clive Hamilton