Friday, July 12, 2013

Bringing Australia together. Rudd's new Accord?

Thirty years ago Labor switched leaders just before an election. Bob Hawke abandoned the rhetoric of class warfare and spoke instead of “bringing Australia together”. He romped home in a landslide.

Kevin Rudd has connected himself to Bob Hawke in an unbroken line. He told the press club Thursday it was Hawke and Keating that transitioned Australia from “the old closed post-war economy to the new internationalised economy that sets us up for the future.” It was Rudd that “did it again”, transitioning Australia through what Paul Keating recently and eloquently described as the valley of death of the 2008-09 great global recession”.

The line was unbroken in the press club speech because there was scarcely a mention of Howard or Gillard, or of the opposition leader Tony Abbott except to observe that he had turned down Rudd’s invitation to appear with him at the press club and to link him to the “slash and burn” policies of Campbell Newman in Queensland and David Cameron in the United Kingdom.

But whereas Hawke was vague about what he wanted achieve by bringing Australia together, Rudd was specific. He wants a pact with business and unions to lift productivity by 2 per cent per year, well above the long-term growth rate of 1.5 per cent per year.

Calculations by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggest a 2 per cent growth rate would boost gross domestic product by $48 billion by the end of the decade, lifting Commonwealth tax revenue by $12 billion and state revenue by $6 billion.

He was specific too about how he would do it, pinching Coalition policies for streamlined industrial agreements for greenfields sites and simplified environmental approvals for major projects...

Some of his less clearly articulated proposals were winks and nods to business. He wants “the future availability of competitively priced domestic gas supplies high on the agenda”. It looks like an endorsement of a plea by the Australian Industry Group for a proportion of newly-discovered east coast natural gas to be reserved for Australian customers rather than sold overseas. Cabinet will “continue to work through a range of policy matters” including moving earlier to a floating rather than fixed carbon price as also demanded by business.

There might also be something for Newstart recipients barely surviving on $35 per day as asked for by business, unions and the unemployed themselves.

Boosting productivity will require much more than this, and productivity is a hard thing to measure. But its a start, and not a bad goal around which to bring Australia together.

In The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

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