27 June 2008

The embarrassment of political riches

Since late last year, Australia has a Federal Labor government and Labor governments in all the states and territories. I expected they'd have achieved more by now than they have.

Responsibilities for health haven't been sorted out. The revenues of Medicare have not been linked more directly to hospitals and other health measures. It's a basic tenet of responsible government that those who raise the money are accountable for spending it. That hospital in northern Tasmania is still in play, which inspires little confidence in this government's ability to address broader health issues. Even less inspiring is the silly defence of a half-baked definition of "binge drinking".

By the time Ken Henry reports on the tax system it will be halfway through the term of government. What sort of response will there be to this? If Rudd goes to an early election it will be rushed and badly thought-through.

At least there is some sort of review going on - Labor's response to the Northern Territory Intervention has been appalling, failing to answer the question "if not this, what?". Jenny Macklin should have a policy smorgasbord to choose from in terms of child safety, economic issues for local communities, health strategies and other matters affecting Aborigines: policy measures discussed with local people and which have their buy-in, and which can be extended across the nation if required. She doesn't have that, and she doesn't have any ideas of her own.

All the big cities are bursting at the seams, and Labor has thrust the federal government back into housing and urban development - again, with not much to show for it. NSW is too busy restraining Frank Sartor from invading Queensland, not only for Lebensraum but also to broaden the range of developers with whom he has to dine at Labor fundraisers.

Even something straightforward like dual carriageways from Melbourne to Brisbane - one via Sydney, one not - is too hard for a Federal Government which seems busy squandering its goodwill.

And water - ? Have they deliberately allowed themselves to get bogged, or did they just give up? Nobody can have confidence in big issues like managing the transition to a low-carbon economy while issues including, but definitely not limited to, the above are left undone.

Mind you, look what Rudd has to work with at the state/territory level. The oppositions of NSW, Victoria and even Queensland are filling political vacuums that should be shoulder-to-shoulder with the federal government right now. The Libs have speeded up a bit, but the fact is that Labor has slowed down to the point where opponents they do not respect are catching them.

If I was a member of the ALP I'd be furious at the wastage of this historic alignment - and wasted it has been. Labor look like losing Canberra Municipal Council as decisively as they lost those in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, because there's no hope left in Stan. Labor look to win in WA like Iemma did in NSW early last year, again against an opponent who seems determined not to offer
better government, but to offer a better opposition.

Even Rudd's performance in foreign policy is becoming fraught. What's the point of Rudd if he can't manage his core issue? What's the point of Rudd if he can't get clowns like Iemma on board? Let's hope this policy vacuum we're in is just teething problems, or a becalming mid-journey, rather than signs that we've elected a dud government with no real alternative.

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