The Rudd government has drifted to such an extent it is unclear what, if anything, it really stands for.
PUT your hand up if you know someone who is intelligent but dumb? Most of us know someone who fits that description.
Should we add Kevin Rudd to that list? The prime minister is undoubtedly very intelligent, with a great capacity for intellectual analysis and an enormous appetite for work.
Why, then, does he lead a government that has blundered from one backdown to another, and made enemies where previously it had friends?
Its latest debacle is the abject failure to properly explain or sell its so-called resource super profits tax. Maybe some policies are unsellable.
One of the spurious arguments put forward to defend the proposed tax is that it will distribute some of the benefits of the mining boom from Western Australia and Queensland to other states.
Well, what about the fact that WA’s share of GST revenue is being slashed because the state is enjoying strong growth in mining royalties and other revenue. Isn’t that an indirect but very significant way of sharing the benefits?
And how does the latest rhetoric stack up with this statement Mr Rudd made to parliament in 2007?
“We have prospered from the rise of China, the rise of India and the global resources boom. The benefits of this are washing through the economy, creating jobs, generating new businesses and boosting government revenues to an all-time high.”
He was on the money in 2007 but, in the remarkably flexible way Mr Rudd treats most policy matters, he has chosen to change tack.
The most extreme example was his recent backflip on the emissions trading scheme. He called climate change the great moral challenge of our time and said it would be a failure of leadership and cowardly not to enact it by 2011, yet that is what he has chosen to do.
The list of policy failures is embarrassingly large, and provides plenty of fodder for people in the blogosphere who circulate growing lists.
The home insulation program sits very high on the list. In hindsight, it is clear that ministers rushed into a program that had worthy goals but in the process failed to heed safety and probity warnings. The result? Workplace deaths, house fires and a massive remediation program being implemented at great cost to taxpayers.
The so-called building the education revolution is another program that had commendable goals – provide an economic boost in the depths of the global financial crisis and enhance the quality of school buildings.
The result has been numerous school buildings around the country built at inflated prices, but falling short of what many of the schools really wanted.
This was part of the federal government’s fiscal stimulus, which it credits with keeping Australia out of recession.
No doubt its extra spending contributed to that goal, but the quantum of spending went far beyond prudent, meaning taxpayers have gained very poor ‘bang for their buck’ and a legacy of increased debt has been left behind.
And that, of course, is one reason the government wants to introduce the resources super profits tax.
There are many other unambiguous failures in the Rudd government’s track record: its fuel watch scheme, since abandoned; its grocery watch scheme, since abandoned; the home solar hot water initiative, halted without notice when the cost blew out; and its indigenous housing program, which has been extraordinarily slow in delivering new houses to those in need, to name a few.
Kevin Rudd’s finest moments have generally been of little more than symbolic value. Saying sorry to indigenous Australians was a special moment, but what tangible progress has followed?
Signing the Kyoto Protocol proved to be a hollow gesture; it has since expired and there is no successor.
One of the most significant policy initiatives to have been implemented was the scrapping of WorkChoices, but even on this front the government has won few friends.
Unions want the government to go further, while employers have been left with an inflexible, costly system.
Not a good track record, and it leaves the government with a lot of ground to make up if it hopes to be re-elected later this year.