Australia is a stable, well-governed country, but if Kevin Rudd becomes Prime Minister it may not be possible to go taking this for granted.
In the 11 years since it was elected, the right-of-centre government of John Howard has proved itself Australia's best government ever. That is not to say it has been perfect, just very good indeed. The economy has boomed and gone on booming. Per capita income has soared, inflation, unemployment and interest rates have all been low. More Australians are wealthy and enjoy a higher living-standard than ever before. A number of potentially serious regional foreign crises have been handled effectively. Australia in general is one of the most respected countries in its region and a leading player in south-east Asian international co-operation and diplomacy. It has taken a strong position in the war on terror and supported the U.S. internationally both diplomatically and militarily.
Australia has been well-governed and prosperous for so long that there is a feeling that such is the natural and unchangeable order of things. This could be a dangerous delusion. Kipling once warned of:
Life so long untroubled, that ye who inherit forget.
It was not made with the mountains, it is not one with the Deep.
Men, not gods, devised it; men, not gods, must keep ...
Alvaro Vargas Llosa wrote recently of the "Return of the Idiot" -- of economically illiterate populists like Hugo Chavez fired by anti-Americanism and the ghost of communism: "Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct." There are signs of this attitude re-surfacing on the Left in mainstream Australian politics.
That the opposition Australian Labor Party is now ahead in the opinion polls, with an election a maximum of about seven months away, is ominous, given what it has become. Bob Hawke, Labor prime minister for much of the 1980s, proved a sound, responsible and beneficial economic reformer. But it seems times have changed, and not for the better. The present leader, Kevin Rudd, despite wearing nice suits (he is an ex-diplomat) and projecting innocuousness, seems to have a grasp of economics comparable to that of Hugo Chavez. Indeed a group of Rudd's supporters -- including the national president of the Labor Party and a host of Labor-affiliated union leaders -- signed a letter inviting Chavez to Australia to advise on the governance of the country, claiming:
We have watched developments in Venezuela with great interest. We have been impressed by the great effort that your government has taken to improve the living standards of the majority of Venezuelans. Although we are on the opposite side of the globe, we feel that our shared ideals of social justice and democracy bring us close together ... what Venezuela has been able to achieve in so little time will be a source of inspiration and ideas for many in Australia.
Rudd has condoned this poisonous nonsense and refused to discipline or rebuke those responsible, despite or perhaps because of the fact that apart from anything else it is an obvious insult to Australia's closest ally, the U.S.
Rudd himself spouts simplistic anti-market extremism:
Our common enemy is the political project of John Howard which seeks to reconstruct Australian society ... Howard's vision for Australia is Friedrich Hayek's rampant individualism where unfettered free markets determine the value of not only every commodity but of every person and institution.
Rudd bolsters his self-righteousness and economic ratbaggery by invoking religion. In the U.S. this might be normal for a politician. In Australia, where politicians don't wear their religion on their sleeves (Howard is a Christian but doesn't invoke the fact to justify his actions), it is a disquieting departure. This is particularly so when it is bracketed with anti-capitalism and eco-extremism, with implied or explicit claims to superior moral worth over the so-called "common enemy" and of a general monopoly of moral rectitude. Rudd has claimed:
What, for example, is a Christian view on the impact of the Americanization of our industrial relations system on family living standards and family life? What is a Christian view of global climate change, given Christian teachings on the proper stewardship of creation?
In a recent article titled "Child of Hayek," Rudd demonstrated a truly scary, Chavez-like blend of moral self-righteousness and ignorance of economic thought, theory and history. He claimed: "Friedrich Hayek...argued that the only determinant of human freedom was the market."
Actually, Professor Friedrich von Hayek said centrally planned economies are incompatible with liberty. In free societies he should be regarded as a hero. Rudd also claimed absurdly that: "Hayek argued that any form of altruism was dangerous because it distorted the market." Nothing like this is to be found in Hayek's writing. Is Rudd confusing Hayek with Ayn Rand? Or trusting no-one in his audience knows the difference? Hayek's commitment to humanity, compassion and charity was abundant and has never been questioned by competent scholars. That Rudd is capable of such perversion of history and economic ideas, whether through ignorance or irresponsibility, might seem a small thing for a private individual -- but not one who may well be Australia's next prime minister.
Rudd's green extremism crosses the borders of the irrational, with a bizarre promise to reduce Australia's carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. Terry McCrann, one of Australia's most respected and politically impartial economics journalists, summed the matter up starkly:
Kevin Rudd has recommitted a Labor government to damaging the economy in the short-term and destroying it in the longer-term.
What he proposes would do far more economic damage, sow far worse social chaos, and specifically and directly hurt individual Australians more than the damage we are still suffering from the disastrous Whitlam period in the 1970s.
Michael Chaney, president of the Business Council of Australia, has said: "You run the real risk that you'll destroy the economy without any benefit to the world's climate." This is extraordinarily strong language from the council, a normally cautiously-spoken body that works hard to cultivate good relations with all political parties.
Rudd's deputy, Julia Gillard, is a far-leftist who claimed in the national daily the Australian that a "strong economy should not be at the cost of fairness" -- and it is hardly rocket-science to work out what that means. Rudd's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, is a lawyer but best known as a rock-singer and anti-development, anti-capitalist, anti-U.S. activist and general subscriber to the package-deal of modern far-leftism. He has said that economic growth "almost always" leads to a worse environment. Shadow Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner is a member of the Party's "socialist left," the most left-wing faction in the Labor Party spectrum. He is a former student radical and strong advocate of compulsory student unions (abolished by the Howard government, to the great benefit of most of the country's university students).
Senior journalist Paul Kelly, who is anything but an uncritical supporter of the present government, has written in words of astonishment about Rudd's economic primitivism: "Rudd has seized a bizarre fate -- a resurrection of trade union power, collective bargaining rights and a far stronger industrial umpire as the keys to [the prime ministership]. Rudd's new industrial policy is a giant step into the past. Indeed, so sweeping is Labor's embrace of the principles of collective power and re-regulation that it must be wondered whether Rudd fully comprehends what he has done."
Even the Labor Party premier of Western Australia, Alan Carpenter, heading a state whose mineral exports make it one of Australia's principal economic power-houses, seems unnerved at what is being proposed.
In 1972, Australia elected a Labor government led by Gough Whitlam, a smooth, pragmatic-seeming lawyer, who came to office with an image of suave modernity not dissimilar to that of Rudd today. It took Whitlam and his cabinet, enthralled by economically illiterate populism, only a few months to reduce Australia to economic chaos. Inflation went from 4.5% to 16.9%, devastating the lives of pensioners and others on fixed incomes (Mrs. Whitlam dismissed it as "a lot of hoo-hah"). A later Labor finance minister, Peter Walsh, said: "Most of the time Whitlam behaved as if the economy didn't matter. Most of the 10 or 12 dominant ministers were economic cranks."
When Whitlam came to power, Australia had an unemployment rate of 2.4% and falling. It went into double-digits. Economic growth rate went from 4.9% in 1972 into minus figures. In September, 1974, with the country ravaged by inflation and unemployment, the Whitlam government approved a 32.5% increase in government spending. By the end of 1974 this had risen by 45%, the budget deficit had gone from 0.6% to 4.2% of GDP, and unemployment had more than doubled over the year.
The crackpot Jim Cairns, sometime deputy prime minister and treasurer, was probably a Soviet agent of influence (Whitlam himself tacitly admitted to the U.S. ambassador that Cairns was a security risk and would not share U.S. intelligence briefings with him). Cairns as treasurer printed money ever faster in an attempt to destroy capitalism. A multifaceted attack was made on the federal system, with the intention of destroying the states lest they obstructed grandiose plans of social engineering. It culminated in a bizarre attempt by the federal government to borrow money from Iraq for an undisclosed quid pro quo. Finally, with the government in complete dysfunction, the governor-general intervened to call a general election. Australia has strong democratic institutions and traditions and it survived. Nonetheless it took many years to recover from the economic damage. Though the Whitlam government's wrecking activities were limited by its relatively short term in office, the lesson is chilling: Australia elected a government of Llosa's idiots once and it could do so again.
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