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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Green Left Weekly Editorial : Rudd’s first year — style over substance

The first 12 months of Kevin Rudd’s federal Labor government have proved to be a continuation of the conservative, pro-war and anti-environmental politics of the Howard years.

The major difference between the two governments has been a difference in style rather than substance. The previous government of John Howard stands condemned for refusing to recognise the threat of climate change or take any steps to limit Australia’s greenhouse emissions. Under Rudd, dealing with climate change is a stated government priority. But Rudd’s actual policies are dangerously inadequate to meet the climate emergency we face.

From a purely public relations standpoint, Rudd’s symbolic gestures on climate change appear successful. He immediately signed the Kyoto agreement. He announced his support for government investment in renewable energy. He formed a new ministry for climate change under Penny Wong. These relatively painless measures raised hopes that the new government took climate change seriously. But the reality has proved to be very different. No widespread shift to renewable energy use is underway, or has even been conceived. No moves to rapidly expand public transport have been made.

No legislation mandating drastic improvements in energy efficiency for industry or agriculture has been drafted. The priority has been given to discredited market-driven emissions schemes and non-existent technologies like so-called clean coal. Emission reduction targets have been set at hazardously low levels in accordance with what big business will accept. The latest alarming climate science has been studiously ignored. * * * * * * Like the articles? Reading Green Left Weekly online is free, but producing it isn’t. To support the independent media and help GLW reach its $250,000 fighting fund target, donate now. * * * * * * Soothing rhetoric aside, Rudd’s climate agenda mirrors that of straight-talking Howard: business as usual will prevail. Damian Lawson and David Spratt pinpoint the essence of the ALP’s approach in the November Rolling Stone: “Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong have adopted a traditional Labor approach to the climate problem: something for the environment lobby and something for business. “But the problem is that solving the climate crisis cannot be treated like a wage deal, with the demands of each side balanced somewhere in the middle. It is not possible to negotiate with the laws of physics and chemistry. The planet cannot be bought off. There are absolute limits that should not be crossed, and doing something, but not enough, will still lead to disaster.” Rudd’s eloquent apology to Australian Aborigines moved many who longed for a decisive shift away from the racism of the Howard years. Not only did Rudd deliver a long-overdue recognition to the Stolen Generations, but he promised to “embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed”. Yet no new solutions — solutions that involve and empower Aboriginal people — have been realised. The racist intervention into the Northern Territory initiated under Howard has continued. The Rudd government is intent on extending welfare quarantining and the suspension of services to “unviable” communities to Aboriginal people in other states. Aboriginal land rights and Aboriginal control over their own affairs have always been especially opposed by the mining and pastoral industries — two powerful players in Australia’s unsustainable economy. The NT intervention was conceived under Howard to undermine the past gains of the Aboriginal rights movement in these areas while simultaneously shifting blame for ongoing poverty onto Aboriginal people themselves. Rudd’s continuation of the intervention, albeit with minor adjustments, signals that the ALP is willing to finish the job that Howard started.

The same can be said for the Rudd government’s record on workers’ rights. The union-led campaign against the Howard government’s anti-union Work Choices laws was the biggest single factor that led to the ALP election victory in November 2007. In the lead-up to the election Rudd exploited this public anger, promising to “rip up” Work Choices and protect the rights of Australian workers. Twelve months later, the key parts of Howard’s undemocratic Work Choices remain intact. The Australian Building and Construction Commission is still empowered to carry out its witch-hunt against the building industry unions. Meanwhile the Rudd government, with the help of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is preparing to sell a rotten compromise to the union movement. Instead of Work Choices, Rudd will deliver Australian workers “Work Choices Lite”.

Australian government support for the bogus “war on terror” and the brutal wars in Iraq and especially Afghanistan have also continued under the Rudd government. Rudd, like Howard before him, has blood on his hands. The similarity between the two major parties when in power is no accident or mistake. Both are committed to defending the profit system at the expense of people and the planet. Temporarily, Rudd has succeeded in deflecting much of the public anger at these policies through symbolic actions. But as capitalism descends into a deep economic and environmental crisis, Rudd’s extended “honeymoon” is certain to come up against the harsh reality. Working people will increasingly demand secure employment, maintenance of living standards and a safe climate for their grandchildren. These are things that the Rudd government cannot deliver without breaking its loyalty to big business.

Style cannot substitute for substance forever.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #776 26 November 2008.

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