When Labor came to power in November 2007, new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said: "Today, the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward, to plan for the future, to embrace the future and, together as Australians, to unite and write a new page in our nation's history."
Many people hoped by "new page" Rudd meant real change. But after two years of Rudd, the promise of change has been revealed as hollow. Far from writing a new page in history, Rudd's ALP has returned to the Coalition's script, merely updating the dialogue.
For the previous 11 years, John Howard's Coalition government had pushed the politics of fear and division, and implemented hated policies. Howard's cabinet was a menagerie of vicious ideologues, dedicated to a neoliberal vision for Australia.
Howard's first industrial relations minister, Peter Reith, used balaclava-clad scabs and guard dogs against unionised wharfies in 1998 in his fight to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia.
Coalition immigration minister Phillip Ruddock presided over the mandatory detention of refugees — including women and children. With zombie-like determination, the government broke international law and ignored refugees' human rights.
Howard's last, cowboy caricature of an indigenous affairs minister, Mal Brough, rode roughshod over Aboriginal rights with the Northern Territory intervention — a policy so racist it required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Presiding over this carnival of conservatism was Howard himself. His steadfast refusal to apologise to the Stolen Generations, his hated Work Choices anti-union laws, his determination to support the brutal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his climate change denial eventually led to his downfall.
Workers and unions
The Your Rights At Work rallies in the 2007 election campaign were key to the ALP's electoral victory. Rudd pledged to restore fairness to the workforce and convinced many that fighting for rights at work meant voting Labor — even though the party's platform kept much of Howard's Work Choices laws.
Two years on, industrial action outside a bargaining period remains illegal. Laws that discriminate against building workers and deny them the right to silence in investigations remain.
Adelaide building worker Ark Tribe is on trial for simply refusing to answer questions from the Australian Building and Construction Commission about a union meeting. He faces six months in jail for his silence.
The right of entry for union organisers into workplaces is still severely limited. Secret ballots are still mandatory before all industrial action. Pattern (industry-wide) bargaining is still illegal.
Union delegates still have huge restrictions on their right to enter a workplace. Workplace health and safety laws are under attack from the ALP. The Coalition's Work Choices has merely become Labor's Work Choices Lite.
The refugee rights movement was a thorn in the side of the Howard government for years. It included prominent human rights activists, student organisations and even groups that cut deep into Coalition heartlands, such as Rural Australians for Refugees.
As sentiment in favour of closing down the detention centres grew, Howard began the "Pacific Solution", where the Australian government paid poor Pacific countries to detain refugees who entered Australian waters.
In an October 2006 Monthly essay, Rudd cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer as his hero. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was executed by Hitler. He had advocated for the rights of Jewish refugees in Europe — and helped smuggle them to safety. In the essay, Rudd said he supported Australia fulfilling its commitments to refugees under international law.
But since he took power, this has not been mentioned.
In the October 15 Sydney Morning Herald, Rudd said: "The key thing is to have a tough, hard-nosed approach to border security, dealing with the vile species who are represented by smugglers on the one hand and a humane approach to our international obligations on the other."
Instead of the Pacific solution, Rudd now pays Indonesia to detain asylum seekers. The policy of mandatory detention is unchanged. The ALP's anti-refugee hysteria is identical to Howard's.
The ALP has also kept Australia involved in wars that create refugees. Under Rudd, the Australian government still gives military support to the US in Iraq and has increased the troop presence in Afghanistan.
At the Australian American Leadership Dialogue dinner in Melbourne on August 22, Rudd said: "America is an overwhelming force for good in the world. It is time we sang that from the world's rooftops." Again, this is identical to Howard's view. In 2008, Howard said the US was "the most powerful force for good in the world community".
The Howard government's inaction on climate change was summed up by its failure to sign the Kyoto protocol — a binding international agreement to slowly reduce carbon emissions.
In November 2007, a poll conducted by the Climate Institute showed that ALP voters in marginal seats wanted far stronger action on climate change than Kyoto allowed for.
Eighty-five per cent said they wanted Australia to lead in international action and negotiations, and 93% wanted Australia to reverse its rising greenhouse pollution in five years.
But instead of taking serious action on climate change, the Rudd government's proposed emissions trading scheme would delay a transition to a greener economy.
Since Rudd's election, no move has been made to limit coalmining or coal exports, Australia's emissions have risen by about 3% a year, and two solar-power manufacturing plants have closed.
Climate action groups have opposed the government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) as a false climate policy. They said its low emission reduction targets, and the more than $20 billion in compensation and free permits the scheme handed to polluting companies, made the scheme worse than nothing.
However, the CPRS did succeed in dividing the Opposition.Climate sceptic Tony Abbott emerged as the new leader, replacing Malcolm Turnball, and the CPRS was voted down in the Senate on December 2.
After the legislation's defeat, the Rudd government announced that all the amendments previously put forward by Turnball to make the bill even more polluter-friendly were now ALP policy.
In response to criticism the CPRS would not halt devastating climate change, environment minister Penny Wong told Lateline on March 10: "[T]his scheme is a vehicle to get us to a low pollution future. If the attitude is: 'If it's not a Ferrari, we don't want any car at all', then I'd have to question the logic of that."
But if the climate science dictates that we need Ferrari-like policies to avoid a dangerous climate change then the ALP's clapped-out Datsun with flat ties isn't going to do the job.
The ALP has also shown environmental recklessness in other areas. Wong approved the Four Mile uranium mine in South Australia and gave the go-ahead for the Gorgon liquid natural gas plant in WA. The Gorgon project alone could raise Australia's carbon emissions by up to 1%.
Despite major public support for same-sex marriage rights, the Rudd government has maintained Howard's homophobic stance.
In 2006, the Howard government overruled Australian Capital Territory legislation allowing civil unions between same-sex couples. Rudd has now threatened to do the same to similar laws passed in the ACT in November.
Rudd's 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations was moving and significant. However, this symbolic gesture represents the only positive thing the Rudd government has done for Aboriginal people.
Despite the apology, Labor has ruled out any compensation for the Indigenous people affected. Rudd has also continued, and now plans to extend, the racist policies of the NT intervention.
On August 27, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the rights and freedoms of Indigenous peoples, James Anaya, told ABC Radio's PM that the intervention's "measures overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatise already stigmatised communities".
Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny Macklin introduced new legislation to parliament on November 25 to extend the intervention's harsh welfare controls to other parts of Australia.
Accompanying such draconian control measures is the promise of more austerity. Howard's Welfare to Work policy, which punishes those on welfare who do not find work, is largely intact. The ALP has also used the recession as an excuse to freeze the wages of the lowest-paid workers.
Rhetoric and spin aside, the new PM not that different from the old one. Unionists, refugee rights activists, climate activists and Indigenous people are fighting just as hard for justice under Rudd's regime as they were forced to under Howard.