The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Kim has written with penetrating insight about Kevin Rudd. Before the waters of history close over this period in our national life and we are totally distracted by the colour and movement of an election campaign I thought we should pause to consider the achievements of the Rudd government.
Where better to start than the list he told us he was proud of in his last press conference as PM?
For your convenience I’ve listed them below.
He introduced the list this way:
I was elected by the Australian people as prime minister of this country to bring back a fair go for all Australians and I have given my absolute best to do that, I’ve given it my absolute all.
In that spirit I am proud of the achievements that we have delivered to make this country fairer.
Here, paraphrased a little, is the list:
1. We kept Australia out of recession. Had we not, half a million people would have been out of work.
2 We got rid of WorkChoices and restored decency to the work place.
3. We stared to build the nation’s infrastructure including the National Broadband Network, which will transform the economy in ways we have yet to conceive.
4. We began the education revolution – 300,000 extra computers in classrooms.
5. We now have trade centres built to service every one of the nation’s secondary schools.
6. New school libraries are springing up across the country, often in schools that have never had one.
7. We now have nationwide early childhood education.
8. We now have a national curriculum.
9. We now have 50,000 more university places and have invested so much more in our universities, in our research.
10. We have reformed the health system; a national health and hospitals network. He said that the new funding arrangements will be seen as a “very, very deep reform.”
11. We are building 20 regional cancer centres right across our country.
12. We now have a National Organ Transplant Authority.
13. We have restored decency to the aged pension. The $100 extra is the biggest increase ever.
14. We now have paid parental leave.
15. We are on track to halve homelessness in the country.
16. We are adding 20,000 additional units of social housing.
17. We signed the Kyoto Protocol.
18. We boosted the renewable energy target to 20%.
19. We tried three times to get an emissions trading system through parliament.
20. We now have a Murray Basin Authority and for the first time in our history have a basin-wide plan and a basin-wide cap on water.
21. On the global stage Australia is now at the table of the G20. We lobbied hard and long for that. It is a good achievement for Australia for the future.
22. We are closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
23. We greeted the Stolen Generations.
He was “most proud” of that last one one, saying:
The apology was unfinished business for our nation. It is the beginning of new business for our nation.
That was the list of achievements Rudd identified, with a little more elaboration, in his press conference. He said it had been a very busy two and a half years.
We have thrown our absolute all at this and I believe when we look back at this, these reforms will endure into the future and make Australia, I believe, a fairer and better place than it would otherwise have been.
Were you aware of all the items on the list? I hadn’t heard of the regional cancer centres or the National Organ Transplant Authority. It’s noteworthy, I think, that his composure first faltered when he reached these two health initiatives. He pointed out that out in regional areas people are three times more likely to die of cancer in their first year of diagnosis. On transplants Rudd himself has someone else’s aortic valve inside his heart. “We chose to make a difference,” he said.
The other points of high emotion were when he spoke of homelessness, of the Stolen Generations representatives being frightened as they came in “over there” and of his family.
This was the first time I played the vision. I heard his speech on my pocket radio, plugged in walking down Queen Street. The speech was indeed very moving, as others have mentioned. Rudd came across as a man of very deep compassion, aware of the fragility of life and concerned about people on the margins.
But I digress. In this post I’m concerned about the achievements of the Rudd government.
He missed a few significant ones. He could have mentioned matching Howard’s tax cuts. He could have mentioned building a string of superclinics to deliver medical services, which I think is quite important. Then there was getting our troops out of Iraq. He could have mentioned getting rid of Howard’s Pacific Solution and replacing it with a more humane approach to asylum seekers, though he was almost certainly not proud of the recent alterations to the policy. Finally, he commissioned the Henry review of taxation, which could spawn more than the RSPT if we so choose.
Each one of the above is worth a separate post or three and we might not all agree on their individual worth. Nevertheless, I think the Rudd government’s achievements will be considerably more than a footnote in history.