Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

The Real Rudd Unveiled

Posted by Possum Comitatus on May 14, 2008

This was me in Crikey earlier today.

Hands up who’s thoroughly sick and tired of reading about how Kevin Rudd is John Howard lite, a bloke that substitutes spin for government activity in those times when he’s not actually doing the big “Me-Too”?

Finally, hopefully, we can all now put that piffle to bed.

The real Kevin Rudd has always been the Goss technocrat, the strategic policy wonk, the careful, cautious planner ad-infinitum that draws policy threads together in a coherent broader tapestry, whom melds electoral politics around concrete policy goals rather than wrapping convenient policy goals around base electoral politics. Last night the real Kevin Rudd became so obvious that even the laziest journalist should be able to see it.

The future direction of health policy is a classic case in point. By doubling the threshold for the Medicare levy surcharge, not only will it start to dismantle the private health insurance gravy train as fewer people get penalised for not taking out private health insurance (becoming an effective tax break for those middle income working families to boot – the electoral politics), but it will to some extent increase the demand on public health resources in the future as a result, particularly the resources of the public hospital system. Yet Rudd has been banging on about reforming Commonwealth-State relations over health since he first achieved the Labor leadership. There’s the explicit threat for constitutional change to allow the Feds to take over hospitals if the States aren’t up to the job to implement reform, there’s the COAG health reform agenda and a bucket of upfront money being made available before the budget and now there’s a $10 billion health fund.

It’s not rocket science to see how it’s playing out – for those that say the budget lacked reform, open your eyes and stop looking at the world through a Howardian prism.

Rudd knows the demand shift consequences of moving the Medicare levy surcharge up the income ladder, he’s banking on at least the first tranches of reform – be it the increase in aged care beds to free up hospital beds, the construction of GP clinics to take weight off hospital emergency departments and the dozens of smaller front line reforms scattered through a dozen documents – to provide the hospital system with the increased capacity to absorb the consequences of this initial reshaping of how private health insurance works in practice. As time moves on, private health insurance will be further reformed with the broader health system as a whole – the scene has been set and the trajectory pretty much laid out.

Too often we all seem to expect reform to come in some big-bang document titled ‘Reforming Policy X” where we can all follow the flow chart. A sort of idiots guide to policy change where winners are easily determined and losers are identified in bright red circles.

Undoubtedly there will be some of those in the future – the not quite so root and branch tax review springs to mind, but there’s a whole lot more going on in this budget below the headlines and the PR management. We might all need to start thinking in more complex ways on how government initiatives interact with one another if we are to get to the bottom of the broader sweep of government policy direction – because Kevin Rudd and his government certainly are.


And another thing that’s been shitting me to tears this morning goes like this:

Random commentator: “history tells us that the first budget is always the toughest

[Like history, or fabricated notions of political orthodoxy are a good guide to judge anything about Rudd Labor – one would have thought that people would have learned that lesson by now]

Random commentator continues: “… but because this budget wasn’t as tough as I wanted it to be, the chances of there being good budgets in the future is seriously diminished”.

Follow this piffle if you can – because the budget didn’t follow the political orthodoxy i.e. “some rule that some knob decided to invent at some point in the past to explain something”, therefore by those same rules of orthodoxy (Those rules that haven’t actually explained anything yet about the budget), future budgets will be miserable.

Good grief – these people are going to be confused for a long time.


But the award for the most outstanding contribution to silly budget commentary definitely goes to Ms Fiona Connolly over at News with her rant “Yet again, Generation X gets screwed“.

The mind boggles


Crossposted over at LP

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24 Responses to “The Real Rudd Unveiled”

  1. Zebee Johnstone said

    The change may bite later as those who jump now are charged more if they want to take private insurance later. Just how many 20-30yos are there earning enough money to jump now and not be caught by the 30 age limit?

    Will Rudd remove that, or will he remove all constraints on the private funds and watch them price and pick themselves out of business?

  2. El Nino said

    The natural state of health care in Australia is a large central insurer (i.e. the government via Medicare) and a number of niche players filling niche needs and cherry picking risks.
    For the last decade or so the niche players have been artificially inflated by government subsidy with a distant promise that we may one day go to a ‘fully’ privatised model. The reality is this outcome would never be politically acceptable in Australia.

    Hopefully this is the beginning of the dismantling of a health system that disadvantages everybody (except private health funds and their shareholders).

    If you are over 30 and have niche health care requirements that are of acceptable risk to a private insurer then I am sure you will find an affordable policy. Otherwise stick with Medicare.

  3. Possum,
    There is no need for constitutional change for the Commonwealth to take total responsibility for the public health system – the Australian Constitution states that health services are the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
    The tranfer of responsibility to the states has always been a separate Commonwealth-States agreement which comes up for re-signing at regular intervals.
    Either side can decide that this agreement should end. Indeed, as a bargaining tool a state has been known to baulk at signing in the past.
    As to Rudd being a Howard-lite politician. It’s not economic management that continues this talk – it’s the Rudd Government’s feet dragging on addressing civil liberties, human rights, open government, protection of whistleblowers, water security and climate change policy etc., problems left over from Howard era legislation which keeps that charge alive.

  4. George said

    Possum, there’s another post-budget comment that shits me even more at the moment, and it’s to do with all those on big incomes that now can’t get the baby bonus or rip off… ahem… I mean “claim” certain items on their tax return.

    Rich Whinger: “I now won’t get the baby bonus which would have come in handy as we’re thinking of having our third child. And I can no longer claim my $6,000 laptop on my tax return.”

    Radio Announcer: “What wage bracket are you in?”

    Rich Whinger: “$100,000 to 200,000 per annum”

    Radio Announcer: “And you don’t consider yourself rich?”

    Rich Whinger: “No! Not at all. I mean we have kids at private school, we own a 8 cylinder people mover, which costs a lot to run, we have a modest million dollar home mortgage, and, well, we file like we’re being punished for being aspirational.”

    Hmmmm…. I’m just waiting for James Packer to call in and whinge that because he had to buy a $100Million yatch last year and a $500Million private jet, he now really doesn’t have much left over and should be getting a hand out from the government! Give me a break.

  5. Jason said

    Now look, Poss, if you’re suggesting that it’s not okay to arbitrarily whine about being in Generation X any more I’m-a-gonna… dunno. Listen to my Smiths records again?

  6. Possum Comitatus said


  7. David Richards said

    ClarenceGirl – let’s not forget other issues on which Rudd is indiscernible from JWH – 1)retention of WFD and other similar “mutual obligation” rhetoric/ideology applied to those at the bottom, but not those at the top; 2)Support for US militarism; 3) excessive allocation of resources to defense spending… the list goes on and on.

  8. David Richards said

    George – your comment brought to mind an interview with Stan Zemanek while tootling around Sydney Harbour in his aquatic luxury vehicle where he said he wasn’t rich.

  9. Aristotle said

    Whether a family earning $150,000 is rich or not, is not the point. The point is whether a family on that income needs financial assistance from the Govt.

    I have been quite surprised by the number of people interviewed who have suggested such an income level does warrant assistance. It clearly underscores what damage the welfare mentality that grew under the Howard Govt has done to the psyche of the electorate.

    150K deserves welfare ?! Give me a break!

  10. Harry "Snapper" Organs said

    Spot on, Poss. Think a huge number of the MSM, not to mention the Opposition, haven’t got a clue about what Rudd’s up to. Going to provide much amusement all round.

  11. […] commentary around the shop today, but let me just recommend two posts – both by Possum – on the end of me-too-ism and how the opposition have been […]

  12. Dee Cee said

    Belated “Welcome home, Possums. LOVED the wedding cake. Glad you Tassied away happily.”

    Loved the post above. Have responded on LP.

    Re: Alchopops & GenX.

    GenX????? If they’re still drinking alchopops in pubs/clubs, at pub/club prices in their 30-40s (as GenXers are now), they are Very Sad People Indeed!

    They should all have finished undergrad uni by now, at least part of it no-fee or low-HECS. If they’re not well into paying off their home, it’s because they went for a status-house … and, given typical GenX, the status car, handbag, designer-clothes, home-theatre, sound-system etc. They’ve reaped the child-care reward no previous generation (including working women of the much-maligned Gens WW2 & Boomer).

    MEMO: Fiona Connolly – Whinging Wendy is SOOOOOO ALP Election1993.

    PS: Compared to what previous WWI-Depression Gen; Depression-WW2; post-war/ Boomers achieved when private schools were totally unsubsidised, unis were full-fee paying, & there was No pre-Medibank/care, no pre-childcare subsidies etc etc – while paying off wars (WW1, WW2, Malaya, Korea, Vietnam) AND the Snowy AND building road / rail / bridge/ port etc infrastructure delayed by Depression & Wars (in the 50s, bitumen stopped before one reached city limits & most suburban roads were dirt) … GenX is SO BL*ODY spoilt!

  13. Jason said

    Dee Cee:

    GenX????? If they’re still drinking alchopops in pubs/clubs, at pub/club prices in their 30-40s (as GenXers are now), they are Very Sad People Indeed!

    I think you have put your finger on an issue that has gone missing in this whole debate. Namely: why have people stopped mixing their own drinks?

    I like a Bundy and Coke as much as the next fella, but I also like to get the proportions right (you don’t wanna get too much coke in there), and also I like to lovingly squeeze a little lime juice in for the proper Cuba Libre vibe. It takes about a minute, drink for drink it’s cheaper than pre-mixes (even pre-tax hike), and dammit it makes me feel a little bit more civilised and self-reliant as I’m getting sloshed.

    In bars, well… THEY’LL MIX THE DRINK FOR YOU. It’s their job! And I reckon that works out cheaper than premixed cans, too. (I shall not even mention the “draft Bundy and Cola” taps one sometimes sees).

    It might seem a bit off-topic for Poss’s blog, but it seems like there has been w whole lot of pre- and post-budget discussion about premixed drinks that don’t consider that it might just have the economic effect of driving people (including underage drinkers) to start mixing their own again (with some effect on budget revenues). Is this possible, or have we forgotten that “Bundy and Cola” premixes actually contain what’s on the can?

  14. Cat said


    And another thing that’s been shitting me to tears this morning goes like this:

    Speaking of honeymoons being over – welcome back to the real world Poss!

  15. Jason Boon said

    I can’t really agree with this argument.

    What the OP days is that Rudd is reforming health through stealth, Isn’t that what Howard did, but in the opposite direction? Howard was not a policy wonk, but policy was oriented by his government toward the private sector. It’s still unclear where Rudd is going with this one, as he is a self-confessed pragmatist when it comes to the issue of private versus public provision of services. I would guess he’ll move health into a new type of private provision. If he were a radical he would have taken over the hospital system. He didn’t and he won’t.

    Rudd’s election strategy was also the ’small target’ one chosen by Howard in 1996. Rudd is not Howardlite, but the fact is that he is a neo-liberal and a social conservative, as was Howard.

    As Calrencegirl put it well:

    it’s the Rudd Government’s feet dragging on addressing civil liberties, human rights, open government, protection of whistleblowers, water security and climate change policy etc., problems left over from Howard era legislation which keeps that charge alive.

    She could have added same-sex marriage and a host of other issues.

    The difference between Howard and Rudd is that Rudd has far more intellectual tools, but still no agenda for government. He’s making that up in government, as he goes along with all the reviews and so on. Like all policy wonks, he has no real ideas and hence the ideas summit that was a policy summit. Rudd is all tip, no iceberg.

  16. Bemused said

    Possum, I’m still not convinced that Rudd isn’t Howard-lite. The budget was the most appalling cop-out I’ve ever seen — how can you spend *11 years* in opposition, and still not know what to do when you get into government? There was so much money to be spent, and Rudd simply didn’t know how to spend it; rather, their all-encompassing policy seems to be to throw money into future funds so that somebody else, sometime later, might know how to put it to good use.

    And it’s not like Rudd had anything to fear from putting forward a grand vision in this budget. There’s two and a half years to the next election, there’s the Howard Government/international climate to blame for whatever you want (e.g. scrapping the tax cuts) and an opposition incapable of finding it’s own rear end to shove its head up. Rudd and Swan could have implemented any policy they liked and got away with it; yet they chose, instead, to do nothing.

    Oh, apart from the tax cuts. Silly me, how could I forget? There was a vision there after all …

    My prediction is that Rudd’s sole policy is to stay in government for as long as possible. And the means by which he will implement this is to throw enough token left-wing gestures to keep the left happy, whilst claiming the centre of politics firmly as his own. The coalition is forced to either adopt hard-line right-wing policies that will never get it elected, or gain the “me-too” label by trying to fight it out against Rudd in the centre.

    The end result is that we have a government that fiddles while this country burns, with no opposition to keep it in check and no ideology to give it direction.

    (p.s. How do you scrap the tax cuts and not get blamed by the electorate? It’s simple — you throw the money directly into superannuation. That way there’s no upward pressure on inflation, you’ve given people better savings for the future and you get lauded as an excellent economic manager into the bargain …)

  17. George said

    Bemused: “The coalition is forced to either adopt hard-line right-wing policies…”

    Wow, pretty much the most stupid statement of the day. The coalition has NEVER been FORCED to adopt hard-line right-wing politics… they breath, drink and sleep it on a daily basis.

  18. Thomarse said

    Why didn’t Rudd/Swan remove cars from the FBT?

    Were they being careful in case the economy slowed heaps?

    Or were they sending a message that more tax rationalisation is coming so big business can begin restructuring saalray packages?

    Disappointed rich private schools got their huge subsidies renewed, that the healthcare rebate wasn’t abolished, the clean coal swindle continued etc. Can see the politics of it but still disappointed or maybe just impatient.

  19. Bemused said

    George: without getting into a bout of name-calling here, I think you need to take a look at a period of politics longer than the last twelve years! Consider the policies of Hewson and Peacock, and the Fraser government … these were all fairly moderate positions. One of the causes for Howard’s downfall was the ultra-right-wing ideology of his government, brought into sharp focus by the freedon the control of both houses of parliament gave it. And it’s clear that the coalition have abandoned a lot of those policies since then.

    Consider, also, what might have happened if Costello had had the guts to seize the Liberal leadership halfway through last year … imagine if he’d ratified Kyoto and made an apology to the Stolen Generation and dismantled the Pacific Solution. What you’d have then is something very similar to the Rudd government now — a moderate centre/right government.

    I went to the Green-Left comedy debate in Brunswick (Melbourne) last weekend, and a couple of the comedians there attacked Rudd in the same way as I did above. The crowd reaction was fascinating — half cheered, half sat in shocked silence. I suspect you’d be one of the latter rather than the former! So can I humbly suggest to you that you judge governments not on the name of their party, but rather on the ideology that their policies present?

  20. JP said

    Bemused – I agree with what nearly everything you’ve said: Rudd shows all the makings of an excellent conservative PM. A wet Liberal’s dream, if you like 😉

    BUT… while you are right that a Costello-led coalition *could* have delivered much of what Rudd has, I doubt it actually would have (for example, I can’t imagine Costello implementing Rudd’s changes to broadband planning). In any case it wasn’t so much that Costello lacked the *guts*, it’s that he lacked the *numbers*, and that’s still the Coalition’s problem. Given the chance to choose, most of them would still choose Howard, just as they used their numbers to force Nelson into opposing the apology. That mindset has to change before things start to go better for them – it’s not just the leadership that’s the problem.

  21. Drew said

    The budget was limp.

    Maybe the ALP have decided they need a four year term – 2 years to work up the policies & implement them, 2 years to bed them down.
    – Reforming health, creating a carbon economy, whatever – these are not matters to be bulldozed into place with the stroke of a pen and a slick marketing campaign.

    Maybe what we saw last week was a pre-election budget complete with double dissolution trigger.

  22. JP said

    What double dissolution trigger?

    Seriously, what on earth in a budget that even you describe as “limp” could be considered so outrageous as to warrant the blocking of supply? I can’t see anything, so I’d love to be enlightened.

    Besides, on current showings Labor have at least six years to pursue their agenda – maybe that’s why they’re taking it slow. Personally, I think they know that they were elected on being similar economically to Howard, but less venal/heartless/opportunistic/dishonest. So a bold budget full of big changes isn’t really what was politically called for (much as I would have liked to have seen one).

  23. […] Also, notwithstanding some MSM narratives of the first six months, I’m with Mark Bahnisch and Possum in holding that there is actually a fair bit going on already – you just have to look around in a […]

  24. David Richards said

    Bemused – Fraser and Peacock may have been moderates – but Fightback showed Hewson was just as fanatically rabid right as Rattus was. Having said that, Rudd is only marginally to the left of Howard… more a fascism reduced, low vitriol version. Howard had to go – but the country didn’t so much brake and turn a corner as go straight through a chicane lifting off the accelerator a tad.

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