Sunday, March 02, 2008

Political perceptions oceans apart

Rudd says no to Left agenda

Australian Prime Minister Rudd has warned that people had "elected the wrong guy" if they believed that once he was in power he would unveil a secret left-wing reform agenda or suddenly yield to pressure from sectional interests.

I find it fascinating straddling Australian and North American political scenes. One of the most difficult aspects is the gulf in perceptions. What is centre or even centre right here is considered broad left in the US.

Rudd’s Labor party was traditionally socialist but now holds the centre ground, much as Blair’s New Labour in Britain before it swung to the right. The left have always been noisy, if not always effective, but that was the past.

Leftish perceptions

But those perceptions, I’m sure Rudd’s first 100 days looks leftish to some in the US:

  • Ratifying the Kyoto agreement
  • Apologising for the historical treatment of indigenous Australians
  • Calling a people’s consultative forum to thresh out the country’s future
  • Flagging the roll back of US style labour laws; imposing more stringent electoral donation rules; also stricter regulations on share trading among other things.

In fact just the talk of tightening the regulatory regime must sound close to communism to the American ear. Personally I find the regulation directions encouraging, and potentially a positive boost to business and the economy here.

The fact is, as we let go of Howard’s neo-con experiment, we are returning to what has long been seen as the Australian political centre. Howard was limited in how far he could dismantle what Americans might see as bordering on socialist policy.

On health the best he could do was hold back specific funding for the public health system administered by the states. His attempt at stripping workers of their rights and putting business interests ahead of those of the wider community eventually lost him the government.

Now Rudd’s major concern is the economic legacy left by Howard. Certainly the economy is booming, but at the same time a major recession threatens unless the new government finds some fast remedies. No doubt those remedies will hurt, but they will hurt across the board without protecting any particular sector.

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