Senator backs dole claims
Kim Carr's claims that the government botched welfare changes has stirred support from a Senate colleague and surprise from the Shadow Minister.PT0M0S 620 349
How quaint it all seems now.
It wasn't so long ago - mere weeks, even - that the Labor government was tearing itself apart over leadership. Remember how we criticised caucus for self-immolating over what was essentially a question of ego? Remember how we longed for the days when harsh words were exchanged over issues of policy, not personality? When we said Labor folk should stop talking about themselves and start talking about the issues?
It is only after the party has argued with itself and settled on a position that it can sell one to the voting public.
Now that the leadership boil has been lanced, Labor is still arguing, but at least they're arguing about policy, right?
In the past week an orderly queue of Kevin Rudd supporters, freed from the constraints of cabinet confidentiality and/or ministerial responsibility, has formed to criticise Gillard government policy, leading to dark talk of an ideological split within the party.
Senator Kim Carr is the most recent dissenter. On Thursday the former human services minister said the government's decision to move thousands of single mothers onto the Newstart allowance, reducing their incomes, was a mistake that compromised Labor values.
Queensland Labor senator Claire Moore, who previously worked for 14 years in the welfare sector, backed Senator Carr, saying that the dole (Newstart) and the single parent payment were not keeping pace with the cost of living.
On Wednesday, Rudd supporter Ed Husic, member for the western Sydney seat of Chifley, questioned the wisdom of a $21.6 million federal government grant to ensure the remake of the Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would be filmed in Australia.
That money could have gone towards the MRI machine he has been trying to get for Mt Druitt Hospital, he said.
On Monday, former arts and regional affairs minister Simon Crean, who was sacked after committing harakiri over the disastrous leadership fizzle, vowed he would oppose changes to superannuation tax concessions. He has said that any such changes would destroy the superannuation reform legacy of the Hawke/Keating governments.
And Martin Ferguson, the old Labor warhorse who resigned as Resources Minister following his support for Rudd during the leadership crisis, criticised the Gillard/Swan leadership for its ''class warfare'' rhetoric. He also took a shot at the remodelled mining tax and said Labor should govern for all.
All of which sounds suspiciously like a debate over Labor values, the direction of the Labor party and the lost thread of the Labor ''narrative'' - the way it tells its story to Australian voters.
It's just a shame the party didn't have these arguments, I dunno, when the policies in question were actually being formulated. In cabinet. In caucus. At the Labor party conference.
Where were these voices then? Were the policies even debated? And what happened to everyone falling in behind Prime Minister Julia Gillard now that the leadership question has been resolved?
It is understood the changes to the single parent payments were decided in cabinet and presented to caucus as a fait accompli. At a caucus briefing to the media a few weeks ago, journalists heard that several backbenchers expressed regret they had not fought the changes harder when they were being instituted. It's too late now. The changes came into effect on January 1.
The media law reforms, which rose and fell in the space of a week, like a blundering supernova, were an ''under the line'' matter, meaning they were not debated by the full cabinet, but nutted out between individual ministers.
It's fashionable at the moment (on both sides of politics) to pay tribute to the economic reform legacy of the Hawke/Keating governments. But those reforms were not dreamt up by a select group of ministers and rushed through cabinet and caucus. They were thrashed out, argued over and in some cases bitterly disputed within the party and the public, in a genuine contest of ideas that led, eventually, to a unified position.
Medicare, or Medibank as it originally was, was a classic example. The wisdom of instituting universal healthcare was debated over decades. That debate was won and now Medicare is a part of the furniture. No party would ever go to an election promising to repeal it.
It is a reform that has had its mettle tested. It is a reform that has stuck. These two things go together. It is only after the party has argued with itself and settled on a position that it can sell one to the voting public.