Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Kevin Rudd's performance (or that of his government) so far as prime minister of Australia has been reasonable.

He ratified Kyoto, and broadly seems to be undoing the Pacific Solution.

He's saying sorry to the stolen generation.

In and of themselves, these are mostly symbolic acts. However, they are important symbolic acts.

A few quite worrying things happened, such as CSIRO being told that they couldn't talk to the press without running it by the government. That little bit of nasty was reversed, thank goodness.

He appears to be keeping campaign promises, but unfortunately, some of them should never have been made in the first place. The level of spending is utterly irresponsible (and yes, the previous government was throwing around even more money, but that's not sufficient excuse). For some utterly unfathomable reason his government is throwing even more money at first home buyers than was promised in the campaign. This is nuts. They're talking fiscal responsibility, but sometimes their choices seem crazy. The market is overpriced - throwing more money into the pot makes it worse for first home buyers. They get a temporary boost, but with more buyers in the market, homes continue to look like a good investment, and the boom of the last 5 years or so - bigger than the one in the US - goes another round. The money thrown at first home buyers will be swallowed by higher prices faster than they can take advantage of it.

An intelligent action would be to try to slowly cool that market off a bit, not heat it up.

There's a lot I want to see them do. They should be moving to make the ABC independent again, and put mechanisms in place to make it hard for future governments to stack the board with lackeys and interfere with program content.

They should be taking a more balanced view on education. They're throwing enormous amounts of money at technical education (about which I have no great objection, apart from the facts that they're solving the wrong problem that way). The reason we have a skills shortage in technical areas is not primarily due to lack of funds there (though it may be a factor). The fact is the market moved on three decades ago, and few students that consider further education are looking for a non-university degree. I think more money is technical education is a good thing, but I think it's a knee-jerk action, not a smart one.

I am cynical about some of the recent initiatives from the last few days, like getting a thousand "experts" and "smart people" to get together and find non-partisan solutions to outstanding problems, which sound great, but simply provides him with a very neat way to sidestep the solutions they come up with - which will be great, but in many cases controversial (which is exactly why these problems are outstanding). So he will, as other governments have done in the past when independent reports recommend actions that are politically brave, simply disassociate his government from the recommendations. That is, the really hard ones - the most crucial ones - are never going to be implemented.

Still, his government have done better than I expected they would in their first few months.

And when you're talking about government, that's not a bad start.

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