Kevin Rudd At The National Press Club: A Whole Lot Of Nothing

KEVIN RUDD kept his date at the National Press Club yesterday, and in light of the refusal of Liberal leader Tony Abbott to be roped into the charade proved the point by talking about absolutely nothing of substance. Soaring, empty rhetoric is one thing, but it raises questions that Rudd must answer.

What is it with Rudd? Is he like an Aero bar, with “bubbles of nothing that make it really something?”

It amazes me that this guy isn’t being held to account in the mainstream media — not even, on balance, by the Murdoch press the ALP sought to regulate and muzzle into submission.

Having said that, one of the better comment pieces in today’s newspapers on Rudd’s NPC appearance is by Judith Sloan, writing in The Australian, and readers can access this here.

I intend to keep my remarks general, because frankly there are only so many ways one can point out that Rudd’s penchant for slogans and meaningless waffle amounts to squat.

And it does seem that people are swallowing his story, although just how long that lasts remains to be seen.

But this event — to be clear — was intended by Rudd as a trap; to bully Abbott into a “debate” over Coalition policy whilst contributing nothing meaningful of his own.

Rudd proved as much, turning up empty-handed. Yet the story resonating through most of the mainstream press and in social media was that Abbott ran away, too frightened to “debate” Rudd, and that his leadership of the Liberal Party must soon be at risk.

Why? Because Rudd is getting away with virtually everything he tries on with the public.

Rudd knows the only way he can attract support is by engaging in a plethora of stunts and vapid rhetoric that doesn’t say actually say anything.

He can’t campaign on the ALP’s overall record — dismal as it is — and he can’t set out any substantial policies because his record as Prime Minister (and Gillard’s) suggests the promises will either be broken or completely botched during implementation.

So the emphasis is on Kevin, the “People’s Prime Minister;” an all-round good bloke who simply talks rubbish and is adored for it, and to the extent he actually says anything with any substance, the reports focus on the populist aspects whilst ignoring the flaws, which invariably are terminal.

The problem with having to face stunts like this — if you are Abbott or, indeed, any alternative Liberal leader —  is that you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

All Rudd wanted yesterday was a forum to belt Abbott over Liberal policy whilst offering nothing of his own. On balance, refusing to be sucked in was the lesser of two evils.

To be fair, Rudd did turn up with one concept: a “productivity pact,” which sounds very visionary and important but in fact amounts to no more than an explosion of the verbal diarrhoea he is notorious for emitting.

Rudd attempted to present this as an “accord:” an accord between the unions who hate his guts, the business community which says it doesn’t trust him and couldn’t deal with him as Prime Minister the first time, and his government.

He claims to have been consulting on this idea for some time, but funnily enough yesterday was the first time anyone has ever heard of it.

Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister presided over increased business regulation, rocketing compliance and financial imposts, and legislating inflexibility into the labour market; yesterday he took a jab at business, saying that “bad industrial outcomes for some major projects can be the result of bad management decisions rather than union hostility.”

It’s fairly clear where Australian business really stands in the pecking order under Rudd’s new regime.

And it offers a clue to something we have talked about over the past few days regarding union control of the ALP: if these sorts of references can find their way into Rudd’s vanilla electioneering stunts now, it stands to reason the unions would have him over a post-election barrel as they did the first time around.

Assuming they don’t see to it that he is deposed, that is.

But for the most part, Rudd’s speech was empty waffle.

He talked about utility price rises, which — despite the effects of the carbon tax — are primarily the preserve of state governments, and to the extent colossal price rises have been imposed on consumers in the form of gas, water and power prices, it is ALP state governments (current and beaten) that are responsible for the vast bulk of them.

In any case, rattling on about fuel and grocery prices helped Rudd win in 2007, despite the fact his government subsequently did nothing at all to lower them, and presumably Rudd’s concern over utility bills is just another attempt to massage a populist hot button that has little relevance to federal politics.

Rudd touched on another hot button issue: travel expenses, what’s proper and what might be improper. No details of course, but Rudd will tighten up guidelines around MPs’ travel.

He tried to skim over the debt and deficit legacy he has saddled the country with, either as Prime Minister for three years from 2007 or as the ALP’s continuing candidate for the Prime Ministership this year, but offered no answers on the state of the federal budget, the colossal recurrent borrowings it now requires, or the exposure the economy now has to any recession as a result.

(As an aside, this picture was taken the night Julia Gillard was deposed: says it all, really).

My fellow blogger Graham Young, writing in his column the Ambit Gambit, has a few ideas as well about Rudd’s reticence in offering up too much detail in his campaign endeavours: I have to say I think he’s on the mark.

If Kevin Rudd wants to talk seriously about policy — or, indeed, have Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party take him seriously in the context of a “debate” — he will have to do a lot better than he did yesterday.

So far we have heard very little about what Rudd plans to do if re-elected, and what we have heard is pure self-serving drivel that is unlikely to ever be implemented.

Rudd needs to outline a programme for a third-term Labor government across the full spectrum of federal government portfolio areas, and to sell the benefits from it as a clear and tangible reason for him to merit re-election by the Australian public.

Until then, he has no moral basis whatsoever to criticise any reticence — real or invented by Rudd for his own convenience — on the part of Abbott to do the same.

And certainly not before an election that is due to be called, but which may yet follow a recall of Parliament: where, as he well knows, Rudd can have all the debates he likes.