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Abbott's time, but Canberra will need to fight to be heard

Date

The Canberra Times

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Former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating deserve to be remembered as Labor greats. They improved this country by chasing big, inspired ideas - and hauling unconvinced Australians along with them. Last weekend, they joined Kevin Rudd at Labor's campaign launch; a tacit sign of support for the Prime Minister's ailing re-election hopes. Yet one cannot help but wonder if their contribution was rooted in opposition to a lifelong opponent - the Coalition - rather than any special admiration for Mr Rudd.

Mr Rudd's approach to the current election campaign mirrors the flaws that defined his prime ministership between 2007 and 2010. He insists he has learned from the verdict of that time: that he was an autocratic leader who rarely consulted others. Yet, over the past 2½ months, he has danced frenetically from one thought bubble to the next. His only apparent strategy has been to neutralise Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's populist appeal by becoming more populist himself.

Mr Rudd is rightly proud of a few accomplishments. His Keynesian response to the global financial crisis deserved the accolades it received from international observers, even if many Australians still fail to see how it benefited them. His government also began to build the national broadband network, a bold venture that could prove crucial for our future, in whatever form it eventually takes.

Yet Mr Rudd's record is tainted by his personal style, particularly his inability to build consensus or produce meaningful reform. He commissioned the thoughtful Henry tax review but largely ignored its advice. After he lost the prime ministership in 2010, he spent much of the next three years covertly harrying his successor, Julia Gillard, and undermining her ability to lead. He seems driven by polling rather than policy. He switches positions on so many issues it is difficult to trust the pledges he makes. Thanks in no small part to his efforts, two Labor administrations have offered more in the way of soap opera than great government. And, perhaps most tellingly, when he reassumed the leadership in June, six Labor frontbenchers confirmed they would retire from politics.

That said, Canberrans are hardly likely to welcome Mr Abbott as prime minister. Like most state and federal opposition leaders (including Mr Rudd in 2007), Mr Abbott has criticised public sector ''waste'' and promised an austere approach to government. This time around, however, the Coalition's rhetoric goes beyond the usual public service bashing. Mr Abbott and his front bench regularly criticise the bureaucracy's growth under Labor, even though it expanded more quickly under John Howard. They have pledged to cut at least 12,000 public service jobs and to shift some parts of the bureaucracy out of the ACT. Mr Abbott's delay in releasing the costs and details of his policies is also troubling; unfortunately, a cynical public has come to expect this from oppositions.

Our city is braced for a tough few years regardless of which party wins Saturday's ballot. An Abbott government would shed thousands of Canberra-based jobs, and also inflate the annual cut to agencies' operating budgets (the so-called ''efficiency dividend'') - which will lead to even more staff losses. Canberrans may dread these decisions but they should not forget that a Rudd government would continue to prune the federal bureaucracy, too. Over the past six years, Labor has regularly sought to do this by increasing the dividend - one of the laziest, least thoughtful and ineffective ways to reduce government spending. Sure, the Rudd and Gillard governments also tried to cut spending in a handful of more direct ways, but their ready willingness to take the easiest option shows Labor is hardly the ACT's best friend. Given its record over the past two terms, who knows what further cuts it would make if it retained office.

Nonetheless, many Canberrans, fearful for their jobs, will vote on Saturday to re-elect their local Labor MPs. Their concerns are understandable, but such a vote will achieve little. The ACT is simply not served well by having two safe seats in the lower house; it allows the main parties to neglect this city and its people. If Canberrans voted more strategically, creating electorates with slimmer margins, they would perhaps remind party leaders not to use us as a political punching bag.

The upper-house election gives Canberrans another opportunity to disrupt political norms. Psephologist Malcolm Mackerras said last month that a Senate vote in the ACT might be ''the most valuable vote in the country''; the only ballot that has the potential to prevent Mr Abbott from wielding complete power. At the same time, Canberrans will lose an experienced senator and proud advocate for the ACT, Gary Humphries, who was defeated in a messy and controversial preselection. He was the only Liberal to vote against the Howard government on a party-mandated ballot (on the matter of same-sex civil unions), because he refused to violate the ACT's rights.

With Senator Humphries's departure, Canberrans now have the perfect opportunity to break up the ACT's cosy Labor-Liberal duopoly in the upper house, and in doing so place a cautionary brake on a likely Abbott government. A lack of a Senate majority is no barrier to good government; indeed, Mr Abbott must embrace compromise if he is to lead well.

And he almost certainly will. Mr Abbott is an experienced former minister. He offers consistency and discipline, while Mr Rudd offers more of the uncertainty and dysfunction that has brought Labor to this precipice. Mr Abbott will need a responsive and well-resourced public service to deliver his agenda. It is to be hoped that the commission of audit he has flagged will understand that governing requires skilled administrators and advisers, and that much of the apparent ''waste'' in the public service is just an assumption. Neither party, and neither leader, offers much in the way of inspiration. However, given Mr Rudd's record and Labor's disarray, stability is the safer course for the nation. Mr Abbott should therefore be given the opportunity to become the prime minister we deserve.

40 comments

  • CRAP!! Abbott and the Liberals will be anything but stable. Capitulation to Rupert isn't a good look - you should be ashamed!

    Commenter
    Muuske
    Date and time
    September 06, 2013, 8:08AM
    • SO, no intelligent refuting of the opinion? Just CRAP! That's it? Therein lies half the problem, a completely refusal to acknowledge the facts.

      Commenter
      jg
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 8:38AM
    • Glad Fairfax has finally had teh guts to speak the truth.

      Commenter
      Sarah
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 8:52AM
    • So well argued Muuske. But you nonetheless reinforce the whole point of the editorial.

      Commenter
      Alex in Canberra
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 8:59AM
    • haha, you sound really desperate at the situation. Labors lies and incompetence is all the fault of Abbott, or rupert Murdoch or any of the "hate media" eh?

      Commenter
      WotTha?????
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 9:11AM
    • The article does not say "vote for Abbott". The article says "get used to it, because Canberra has two safe seats and we can't affect the outcome".

      The article also says you should use your SENATE vote to reduce Abbott's control and stop both parties taking the ACT for granted.

      Reading between the lines, this means vote Green in the Senate.

      Commenter
      Arrow
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 9:12AM
    • I endorse CRAP--- This article is TOTAL CRAP and why doesn't the author have the guts to PUT UP his/her Rinehart name? Abbott will bring back SNEAKY SLY SPIN DOCTOR wealth shifting class war government . Everyone knows Abbot will be a utter total disaster for Canberra just like little johnny winston was in '97 when he sacked 10000 public servants and replaced them with fresh air and house prices crashed . The form guide is there for punters on Saturday .STOP THE VOTES or you'll get 'boltneck Tony' and the creepy Mr Pyne

      Commenter
      Dan
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 10:04AM
  • Funny thing is that Labor managed a stable, functioning government in a hung Parliament, something thatr most people conveniently forget. Despite the foibles and the dysfucntion of the PARTY, Labor goverened about as well as you could do under the circumstances. An analysis of the POLICIES, as opposed to the PARTY, would certainly lead you to a different conclusion of who to vote for.

    Commenter
    Big Bird
    Location
    Wollongong
    Date and time
    September 06, 2013, 8:28AM
    • Stable?
      Incompetent and anything but stable . Rudd, Julia , Rudd not to mention the number of times a leadership change was discusssed. And consider all the changes at minister level , stable?

      Labor predicting a Surplus each year and failing to deliver due to their incompetence and wasteful spending. Going from NO debt to > $200B debt with NO plan to address.Supporting corrupt members at both National and State levels .

      Really sad that Labor supporters can continue to talk such rubbish.The Labor party needs to be savagely treated this election to teach them and other potential pollies a lesson.Treat the nation as MUGS , fail to deliver on promises , spin and lie and the majority of the nation will catch up with you.

      Commenter
      aaa53
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 9:33AM
    • not Stable? the capital is Canberra, not Cairo. get a grip aaa53.

      The coalition has just released its costings and hey what do you know, they seem to be saying more of the same but with a designed to fail carbon reduction policy tacked on and savings to come at the expense of the third world. bit late in the day to change the tune for coalition followers to get in step it goes like this now 'crisis, what crisis'. get with it. Or am I so stupid as to believe that the coalition will do such a better job economically when they are saying they're not going to cut, they're not going to put any target on bringing the budget back to surplus and that they are offering nothing significantly different. Or maybe they're telling a pack of lies, and they don't even measure up to the old point of difference between the ALP and Coalition, that where the coalition would at least be honest about the next act of bastardry they'd commit, whereas the ALP would lie and then just do it anyway.

      As to the rats in the ranks of the ALP, yep no argument, but if you think that Cori bernardi, sophie mirabella, james diaz and that idiot who suggested that traffic congestion is connected to asylum seekers are of a significantly superior caliber, go ahead and make the argument. Also please tell me what makes you think there are no significant issues in the coalition, because Abbott, Hockey and Turnbull all seem to offer significant points of difference to each other, to the point I wonder why they are in the same party.

      Commenter
      jate
      Date and time
      September 06, 2013, 11:27AM

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