Monday, April 28, 2008

Mr Rudd and a dreadful sense of deja vu

I am clearly really out of touch for I fear that Mr Rudd has inspired in me this awful and bizarre sense of deja vu. Wikipedia speaks of deja vu this way:

The experience of déjà vu is usually accompanied by a compelling sense of familiarity, and also a sense of "eeriness", "strangeness", or "weirdness". The "previous" experience is most frequently attributed to a dream, although in some cases there is a firm sense that the experience "genuinely happened" in the past.

This is not the first time this has happened. I used the phrase in an earlier post, The Rudd Approach - Efficiency Dividends, Axe Wielding and Razor Gangs. Now its much worse. But how to explain? Where do I begin?

I suppose the logical starting point is the obvious one, the way symbolic topics from the Keating era are back on the agenda. This has in fact reached the point that Mercurius in Culture War II: blitzkrieg on Lavartus Prodeo felt obliged to express not entirely tongue-in-cheek sympathy for those on the other side! Listening and reading, I do find myself back in 1994.

This is the obvious one, but it goes far beyond this.

Turning on the radio this morning on the way to work, I learned of the seventy per cent increase in the excise on so-called alcho-pops as the next part of the campaign against so-called binge drinking.

Now as someone with 18 and 20 year old daughters who is a reasonably close observer of of the Sydney young scene, I would agree that certain types of binge drinking are a problem. I would also agree that the particular drinks in question, and Australia is reputedly the largest per capita consumer of these drinks in the world, do play a role in introducing young people, mainly girls, to drinking. But neither the excise increase, nor the other proposed moves intended to address the binge drinking issue, actually address the underlying causes.

As someone who has spent a fair bit of the last few years campaigning against what I see as the combination of growing Australian social conservatism with increasing authoritarian trends in Government, the two are linked, I am hard pressed to see any difference between Mr Howard and Mr Rudd's approach to the nanny state.

But wait, there is more!

Mr Rudd is, am I am, a creature of his time.

Born in 1957, he joined the ALP in 1972 at the age of 15. Many of his symbolic views reflect the views of this period.

His views on public policy and public administration were really formed later.

He joined the Commonwealth Public Service around 1981, rising to Senior Executive Service status in 1988 through the Department of Foreign Affairs. From there he went to become Chief of Staff for Wayne Goss, later driving change in the public sector after Mr Goss became Premier in 1989.

All this means that Mr Goss grew to and then exercised positions of power during the period managerialist approaches became entrenched in the Public Service. This is reflected in his language and approach. He is a creature of this period.

My sense of deja vu here comes from the fact that I know the code, have heard it before. I, too, supported those approaches to some degree, but have come through to a strongly opposing position. Managerialism has failed. Now when I listen to Mr Rudd, I am driven back into the past.

In all this, I accept that Mr Rudd has a genuine social compassion and a desire to drive change. Yet here I come to another problem, one that completes the sense of deja vu. I do not see how he can deliver!

The key difficulty is one that I have seen many times, the fact that the supporting systems are simply not there to support the level of activity proposed.

Maybe I am wrong in all this. But for the moment I am struggling with symbols that I often disagree with, with a socially conservative and authoritarian approach that I generally disagree with, and with an approach to public policy that I feel is wrong.

The irony in all this is that some of my own views were formed during the first period of the Hawke Government. I was hoping that Mr Rudd would have the same liberating effect. And now I really doubt it.


Lexcen said...

Jim, such early disillusionment with the new government is sad but not surprising. I've been skeptical of politicians ability to deliver for many years.

Anonymous said...

When you say that the "supporting systems are simply not there to support the level of activity proposed", what do you mean exactly?

Can you elaborate on what you mean by the managerial approach?


Jim Belshaw said...

Good afternoon, Lexcen. I am not so much sceptical about politicians, I still retain faith here, but about the overall capacity of the system.

Kymbos, driving to work this morning and thinking about this post, I was wondering whether or not I should do a follow up post looking at methodological issues.

You have decided me. Your questions deserve a full response, one not hidden in comments, so that others can then critique what I say.

I will try to finish this tonight.