What can we expect from the return of Rudd?

June 28, 2013
It is not in our common interest to stop at supporting the ALP as a lesser evil.

Whatever their views on the relative merits (if any) of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, there were many people inside and outside the Labor party who breathed a sigh of relief when Rudd replaced Gillard as Labor leader and prime minister.

The reason was simple. It offered the hope that Tony Abbott and his Liberal National Coalition would not have the landslide victory in the next election predicted by all opinion polls for many months. It offered the hope that even if Abbott won, perhaps he would not capture both houses of parliament.

Rudd admitted this is the main reason he is PM again. Another reason he gave was that “tens and thousands of ordinary Australians” had been asking him for a long time to take back the leadership of the ALP to offer a real political choice at the next election.

This has prompted some people to hope that Rudd will announce a progressive shift in policy to differentiate the ALP from the Coalition opposition.

Rudd could and should take this course but is unlikely to do so. Since the Gough Whitlam government in the 1970s, every subsequent ALP government has been more conservative than the last.

The reason for this is clear: All around the world, ever since the beginning of the capitalist neoliberal period, any government seeking to manage the system for capitalism has been pressed to make bigger and bigger incursions on the social and political rights of working people won in the earlier period. They are driven by a global business imperative to preserve their profit rates at the expense of their workers and the public good.

Rudd said on June 29 that he had reformed his leadership style and pledged to be “collegiate” and take any decision, except emergency decisions, through the cabinet. Therefore he could not shed much light yet on what policy shifts were coming. But there have been some strong hints.

The easiest progressive thing he can do is to bring Australia into the 21st century and recognise equal marriage rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

Although he made headlines in May when he underwent a conversion and now supports this basic democratic right, he stopped short of making it an election promise, instead allowing for a “conscience vote” on the issue. If Abbott refused this challenge, he added, another option could be to hold a referendum.

But that is as good as it gets.

The main shifts foreshadowed are to the right. Both Rudd and foreign minister Bob Carr have signalled a “tougher, more hard-edged” approach to asylum seekers. Both have now aggressively put the outrageous argument that most asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat are just “economic migrants”.

This flies in the face of reality.

More than 90% of asylum seekers from boats were found by the department of immigration refugee assessments in the March quarter to be genuine refugees. This high proportion has been consistent for decades.

Another rumoured shift is on the carbon tax. According to unnamed “sources close to Mr Rudd” cited by a Daily Telegraph report, cabinet will consider bringing forward the date the carbon tax is replaced by an emissions trading scheme. This will immediately and sharply lower taxes on the most polluting industries.

Time and time again in Australian politics, fear and desperation have bludgeoned too many people into falling uncritically in behind the ALP as the lesser evil. Green Left Weekly recognises that in situations where any progressive person is faced with the limited choice between two evils they should choose the lesser evil.

But it is not in our common interest to stop at supporting the ALP as a lesser evil. Progressive people should also do all they can today to advance the time when we are not faced with such a poor choice.

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