Rudd shows interventionist streak

02/07/2009 - 00:00


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A clearer picture of what the Rudd government hopes to achieve is starting to emerge.

NOW the Utegate affair is no longer dominating the media, it's worth asking if it reveals anything about future policy intentions and directions.

There's certainly something familiar about it; something many Western Australians are likely to recall.

Look back to 1983-88 when Brian Burke was premier.

In February 1983 he'd toppled the Liberals, who'd governed since 1974 - led firstly by Sir Charles Court (1974-82) then Ray O'Connor (1982-83).

Labor over those years had several leaders - outgoing John Tonkin, Colin Jamieson and Ron Davies.

Then, in 1981, a young, some said brash, Brian Burke, burst on to the scene.

The equivalent nationally was the Howard-Costello years of 1996-2007, which ended with the emergence of brash Kevin Rudd.

Labor over those years also had several leaders - Kim Beazley, Simon Crean, Mark Latham, and Mr Beazley again.

The fact that Mr Rudd made three very low-key visits to Perth to meet Mr Burke over 2006 and 2007 may be coincidental.

However, we may learn in coming years that their discussions, from which Mr Rudd subsequently tried to distance himself, were more significant than presently assumed.

Hopefully Mr Burke writes his autobiography and, if so, let's hope he presents a detailed account of those meetings.

Another similarity is their standing in polls.

It's now fashionable to describe Mr Burke as a 'disgraced former premier'.

However, that certainly wasn't the way things stood during his premiership.

He consistently polled well, won the 1986 election with an increased majority, was regularly described as Labor's most successful leader, and was seen as a future Labor prime minister.

Interestingly, Mr Rudd has had a similar polling dream-run.

He's also got the Liberals spooked on the question of an early election, which most commentators believe Labor would win, probably with an increased majority, like Mr Burke in 1986.

Mr Rudd presently looks like someone who can stay in the Lodge for as long as he likes.

Which brings us to another likely similarity.

Mr Burke surprised all by announcing in late 1987 that he was vacating the premiership for a diplomatic post as Australian ambassador to Eire and the Vatican.

Regular State Scene readers will recall two recent columns where the likelihood of Mr Rudd opting for a top United Nations job was canvassed, with backing for that prediction from a national correspondent who claimed three high-level informants believed this to be likely.

However, a far more important similarity is their approach to business.

It must be stressed neither harbours old-style Labor hostility to what's called private enterprise.

Far from it.

Both have found considerable backing across business sectors.

So much so that current Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull recently castigated a national business group for being too pro-Labor.

Such frustration was also evident in Perth during the Burke years when the Liberals found growing numbers of heavyweight business leaders snuggling up to Labor.

Although this defining aspect of Mr Burke's premiership is now dubbed WA Inc, and whenever thus described seeks to conjure up all sorts of sinister financial imagery, it must be stressed that that's not how things were seen at the time.

It's so easy to read history back-to-front.

Just because something is viewed one way today doesn't mean that that's how it was viewed as things were unfolding.

When Mr Burke became premier he held quite firmly fixed views on how WA's economy should be transformed; away from reliance upon outside financial forces, including Canberra largesse.

That's why he felt a need to create the WA Development Corporation, EXIM, and expanded the powers of the WA Tourism Commission so it could embark on joint ventures in the hotel, resort development and management, and related paths.

He envisaged a network of government-owned and/or partnered ventures and agencies emerging to reap profits for Treasury to help free WA from Canberra's colonial-style tied grants system.

Largely because his WA Inc vision wasn't realized it hasn't been fully and objectively analyzed.

What's needed, and again State Scene hopes a Burke autobiography emerges, is for all this to be clearly and extensively outlined.

But back to Mr Rudd.

Although he shrewdly convinced voters during 2007 that he was an economic conservative, he is in fact far from that.

Last Christmas, through an article in The Monthly, he finally revealed that what voters believed Kevin07 to be, he was not.

Kevin09 and thereafter is someone wanting Canberra to be actively and extensively involved, via Treasury, in an intricate network of ventures with and alongside business.

True, the Rudd national blueprint isn't the same as the Burke state-based corporatist one.

But it's becoming evident that central to Rudd-style corporatism is the creation of a network of interlocking taxpayer-backed government-private business and financial entities.

So he's far from the hands-off laissez-fair believing conservative as once so cleverly portrayed.

He's shaped up to being a highly interventionist social democrat, a title that in big-taxing Europe applies to an array of parties that back creating costly and unnecessary taxpayer-financed market-interfering entities.

Because this is still evolving there's little more that can be said about the emerging Rudd corporatist blueprint.

But we can be sure that his vision, which has some resemblance to the unrealised 1980s Burke one, is emerging.

How else does one explain the government's wish to create a $4 billion taxpayer-sponsored finance house, RuddBank, for big property developers?

How else does one explain his plan to create a $2 billion car dealers OzCar financing scheme, now at the centre of Mr Turnbull's problems?

How else does one explain the announcement that Australia will be wired - for a $42 billion price tag - for broadband, with private telcos to be urged to join?

How else does one explain the Rudd Government's media leaks on retiring Howard government treasurer, Peter Costello, perhaps being offered the post of CEO of the Future Fund whose assets stand at about $60 billion, and include Telstra shares valued at $6.9 billion?

There could be no shrewder appointment - a former conservative treasurer and prime ministerial aspirant who has long been hailed as a success - to convince and cajole business into venturing with Canberra to help create Australia Inc.

And there's also the up to $200 billion unfolding deficit budgeting super spending spree.

Mr Rudd and fellow Queenslander, Treasurer Wayne Swan, have so far shrewdly, if not wisely, used the so-called global financial crisis to camouflage their corporatist intentions.

On the other hand, the Liberals nationally continue to face an electorally arduous future, one undergone by their WA counterparts who so often were as amateurish as Mr Turnbull has recently been.



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