Kevin Rudd is back. Tony Abbott defeated him once before—and he can do it again, by following his own advice.
Abbott was elected leader of the Liberal Party in a party room ballot on 1 December 2009. Th at day, in his first press conference as leader, he explained what would be different about his leadership. He promised that he would off er the Australian people ‘an alternative, not an echo … a choice, not a copy’.
He did so by adopting a policy position that almost every member of the Canberra press gallery and professional political class advised against: opposing Rudd’s emissions trading scheme. At the time, it was a radical position. Th e IPA had been labelled mad for advocating such an approach.
But his stance was vindicated when the ALP removed Rudd as leader largely over the politics of climate change, in the polls where the Coalition was revived, and in the unexpectedly close 2010 federal election.
Prior to the Coalition’s change of policy on climate change, the Australian people were not offered a real choice. If they voted Labor they would get a massive new tax which would have no measurable impact on the environment. If they voted for the Coalition they would also get a huge new tax with no measurable impact on the environment.
Now that Rudd has returned to the ALP leadership, and revived his own party’s political fortunes, the Australian people again need to be offered a clear choice.
There are obviously compelling policy reasons to off er the Australian people a clear choice at the upcoming election. Th e mining boom is over. Th e global economy remains weak. Th e cost of doing business continues to rise. Regulation is hampering economic growth. Th e burden of government on Australians is larger than it has ever been.
A clear, forward looking and yes, radical, policy agenda is needed to address this. Business as usual in Canberra—where government spending continues to rise, new taxes are levied and more public servants are hired—will not do.
Unless Australians are willing to tolerate the levels of high debt, stagnant growth and falling living standards that have plagued much of Europe, change is needed.
But there are also compelling political reasons to off er voters a real choice.
Kevin Rudd’s political strategy is to distance himself from the Gillard government on symbolic issues like asylum seekers and the carbon tax. Rudd is trying to convince the Australian people that they have already had a change of government. The prime minister they loathed is now gone.
If voters are convinced that Kevin Rudd really is a genuine alternative to Julia Gillard, many will vote for him. Th e Coalition needs to demonstrate instead that it is the real alternative to the Gillard style of governance.
The best way to do that is with a bold, radical policy agenda.
A good starting point is the IPA’s list of radical ideas, originally published in the August 2012 IPA Review. Th ere are more than 100 to choose from. Admittedly, many would be unlikely to be popular. But others, like serious tax reform, would demonstrate vision and off er the chance to inspire voters. Genuine education reform, like introducing a voucher-style funding scheme, would be a positive plan likely to win approval from the electorate. Some ideas would be instantly popular—like our proposal to end all public funding to political parties.
Conventional political wisdom dictates that a cautious approach is the safest option. No doubt the Canberra press gallery will again be offering free advice to stick to the political centre, as defined by them. But the Australian people want a clear break from the past three years. Th e political party that offers the most convincing change is likely to be rewarded.
Elsewhere in this edition you’ll find lots of other radical ideas, like that government debt is a bad thing and free speech should be defended. These are the sorts of ideas you can always rely on the IPA to advocate— no matter who is in power in Canberra.