Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Musings on the Rudd era

Over at his place, Neil Whitfield has been revisiting past posts. One year ago: Kevin Rudd bares all… was first published on 1 March 2010, two years ago. It includes a reference to an earlier post of mine from 30 May 2008, Slow down Mr Rudd, for all our sakes, slow down.

Neil's piece led me to look back at some of the things that I had written.

The Rudd Government was sworn in on 3 December 2007. That seems a long time ago now! It fell on 24 June 2010.

The first piece I wrote on Mr Rudd was on 22 November 2007 during the election campaign,  The Rudd Approach - Efficiency Dividends, Axe Wielding and Razor Gangs.  There I said in part: "All of a sudden Mr Rudd has given me a nasty feeling, a sense of déjà vu." The words déjà vu recurred in subsequent posts from around the same period: 28 April 2008, Mr Rudd and a dreadful sense of deja vu, 29 April 2008 Mr Rudd and a dreadful sense of deja vu - Managerialism and systemic failure.

Those earlier posts were influenced by my perceptions of what I saw as systemic failures in current approaches to management and public administration. This led me to interpret Mr Rudd's approaches in particular ways that were, I think, a little different from a lot of writing still influenced by the golden glow cast by the success of Kevin07, the Rudd new broom.

Looking back, the media gave Mr Rudd a long honeymoon period. When reporting did swing, it did so quite suddenly and with a degree of venom that surprised me at the time. At times it felt like "we were wrong, so we are coming to get you."

The déjà vu posts were part of a burst of posts I wrote over April, May and June 2008:

One of the problems that I sometimes have in writing on current events is that some of my views such as my continued support for a constitutional monarchy or indeed my focus on country issues seem old fashioned. You can see this a little in those posts. This can impede interpretation in a GetUp world.

Looking at those posts, you can see my concern about the use of symbolism, of style and image over substance. But you can also see my professional focus on the actual working of Government. These concerns continued in later posts such as:

I was, I think, either the first or close to the first to apply the NSW tag to the Rudd Government. I did so because I was quite close to the working of the NSW Government at the time, and the comparison was irresistible.

Looking back at the posts, it's interesting just how much I wanted to Mr Rudd to succeed, to replicate the first period of the Hawke Government when so much seemed possible and indeed so much was done.

The Global Financial Crisis broke while we were in Shanghai in September 2009. That was a golden trip, one of the best weeks of my life.

I had watched the crisis unfold on the TV, but was astonished when I got back to Australia on the nature of the reporting. Yes, things were bad, but from an Australian perspective they just weren't as bad as the local presentation. As reporting and commentary got more hysterical, I was drawn back into straight economic reporting of type I had not done for several years just to redress the balance.

To my mind, the global financial crisis was both the Rudd Government's finest hour and its greatest disaster.

It was the Rudd Government's finest hour because it acted decisively at a time when such action was needed. It's not just numbers that are important here, but popular mood. Some of the Opposition's analysis was in fact closer to the mark than the Treasury advice, but with something close to panic in the streets action was required.

It was the Government's greatest disaster because it distracted from other things, but also imposed strains on a Government system that was already stretched for reasons that I had outlined. The result was things like pink batts.

One of the things that I have struggled to properly understand over the period is the reaction on the left and within the Labor Party family to events affecting both the Gillard and Rudd Governments. I am not talking just about the machinations, but about the writing and talking that has gone on.

I have written a little about the way in which intense worlds gain a reality independent of reality. I suppose that age and experience have blunted the sharp passion that I once felt on certain issues. Yet even the young Jim would have struggled to understand why, in the name of ideological purity, it is better to kill your friends or allies when the outcome must be Tony Abbott!

Remember, I am not a natural ALP supporter.

I am interested in values (the refugee issue finally killed the remaining vestiges of my support for the Howard Government), but my focus is largely practical. I want things to work better.

Looking back, I feel a great sense of sadness at what happened with the Rudd Government. We lost the opportunity for that real change that only comes at long intervals. As we track forward, we have a wounded Government, along with an Opposition that seems entrenched on a track that, to my mind, encapsulates the worst features of a now discredited past. I find that sad.           


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post, Jim, and neatly encapsulates why I continue to find your thoughts a very valuable resource.

I hope I will be able to keep enjoying such a quiet and thoughtful analysis of events, large and small, away from the deafening roar that is mainstream news these days.


Geoff Robinson said...

I would agree, Rudd had potential but was a lost opportunity would have been better off being himself rather than trying to be his vision of a politician: gap between his thoughtful writing & his cliche-ridden rhetoric.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd. You will.

It's interesting, though, just how much of my purely professional work has actually been concerned with things such as process mapping, including identification of what is required to fix things up. This can be difficult and sometimes frustrating in a world dominated by the need for immediate activity.

I think that you make a good point, Geoff, although both are part of the same personality.

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Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Maria. That's fine. Will try to email you tonight.