Roosting Chickens and Murray Plans.
Posted by Possum Comitatus on March 27, 2008
“This exciting new broad agenda replaces words with actions” says the COAG communiqué. Yes, well – they all say that. What gives it a bit more giggle power here is that it’s specifically referring to the red tape reduction strategies associated with the business deregulation program.
If you listen carefully, you can here the Big Kev chants of “I’m excited!” emanating from living rooms and workplaces around the country.
Yet the red tape reduction strategy is far from being a broad new agenda. It’s simply a continuation of a previous ongoing COAG program – in this case going all the way back to the Banks Report, where the only thing new about it is the dozen extra pieces of regulation that have been added to the 27 already in the program. Oh – and the packaging, that’s new! It now says the ALP leading the way in Commonwealth/State relations rather than the Coalition.
When you read across the entire COAG document, most of the heralded achievements are either like the regulation reform program in that they are simply a continuation of existing programs – especially the Murray plan, or they are really low hanging political fruit that makes a loud media bang, and which merely kicks the real detail work down the track for later.
It’s a clever piece of politics that must be making the Coalition choke – the Murray Plan particularly.
This $10 billion back of the envelope Murray plan, which many of us might remember passed the “common sense pub test” – apparently the benchmark standard of good governance in those dying days of the last regime – was not only Howard and Turnbull’s creation, but it warped into a political weapon that has now ironically exploded in the face of its creators.
The Murray plan was mostly politically driven to begin with – it gave the Coalition something to present to the electorate as an example of how they were still a government capable of solving problems and taking on new challenges. The expedience of its creation spoke volumes about its true purpose.
But after the plan kind of flopped in terms of winning back public support, it conveniently segued into the new political strategy that the Liberals developed of attacking the Labor States. This new strategy that popped up mid 2007 was essentially an exercise in trying to diminish the Labor brand and get to Rudd via the backdoor, since brand Rudd was proving to be impenetrable to piffle like Brian Burke, stripper gate and the other fluff the Coalition and their stooges threw at him.
We knew this strategy was in place because we saw it in the notorious Oztrack33 Crosby Textor document and at the time you couldn’t find a Coalition politician that wasn’t dragging the theme of failing Labor State governments into their media appearances.
By June 2006 the Murray plan looked like it was a done deal among all the players, with even Victoria reaching in-principle agreement after dialogue between Turnbull and Bracks. The Coalition could have sown up the agreement then and there if they really wanted to – all it would have taken is for Howard to cave in on some of the States fringe demands with a bit of money. But that would hardly fit with the Libs new political strategy at the time. It would be hard for Howard to demonise the incompetence of the State Labor governments on the one hand, while basking in the inevitable media praise of reaching an agreement with those same incompetent States over the Murray on the other hand. Likewise it would have been a silly mixed political message for Howard to be warning the public that Rudd couldn’t stand up to the State governments, while simultaneously caving in to those same State governments himself to get the Murray plan finalised. It all looks a bit silly to bag the States and attack the Labor brand if the States start delivering the goods.
Strangely, as the Coalition political campaign against Labor State governments ramped up through July, the negotiations over the Murray started breaking down – but not for anything the States had necessarily done, but because the Howard government started reneging on parts of the original in-principle agreement. NSW got hammered by Howard changing the responsibility of residual liability issues, Victoria became more convinced that what was agreed to in-principle was no longer going to be delivered. It was also in July that Howard started getting bellicose in the media with threats to use the Commonwealths constitutional powers to seize control over the basin (although just how the mechanics of that was supposed to work was conveniently left out).
What initially started out as a $10 billion Coalition policy designed with helping the government look relevant with fresh ideas, quickly descended into a $10 billion Howard bluff that became a political weapon in the fight against Labor. Howard hoped that essentially giving the finger to the Murray would help him get the electorate to give the finger to Rudd.
Looking back, it was really quite disgraceful what happened and was typical of the way Howard has always played his politics.
Fast forward to yesterday – and now we have this Coalition conceived plan of fixing the Murray again becoming a political weapon, yet this time it’s Labor’s to wield. The Murray plan is being described as a Labor achievement, that Howard stood in the way of making it happen, that Rudds leadership delivered the goods and that it is the perfect example of the new cooperative Federalism that Rudd stands for and which Howard despised and could not deliver.
Not only are the Labor governments claiming credit for many things at COAG that were already well in the pipeline and mostly of the Coalitions doing like regulation reform, not only are Labor claiming success on issues like health and education which are really little more than low hanging fruit that was easy to achieve and took virtually nothing to do so, but they are now claiming success for delivering the policy of the Murray plan – a plan which was originally conceived for political purposes by the Coalition but which later changed into a weapon of political strategy for the re-election of the Liberal party.
The Coalition, but Turnbull in particular must be choking over this since the Murray plan could have been delivered by Howard and Turnbull last year if Howard had not decided to play silly buggers with it instead. Now the Labor party get to bask in all the credit and glory for the plan, they’ll get to write the history of the policy and will no doubt thoroughly enjoy belting the Coalition around the head with it.