Comparing the Rudd-Gillard vs Abbott legacy

In the last week, a number of “internet-libertarians” have made the argument that the Abbott government is worse for liberty than the Rudd-Gillard governments ever were.

While this is perhaps proof of the fact that internet-libertarians are constantly in a state of perpetual outrage against the authority of the day, as well as of the frequently demonstrated phenomenon that political judgements strongly discount the past, it certainly is not a statement that is grounded in any form of reality whatsoever.

Such misinformation is not only inaccurate, spreading it is damaging to the credibility of the liberty movement

As bad as the Abbott government may be, Rudd-Gillard were worse. A lot worse.  

When Kevin Rudd came into office promising to be an ‘economic conservative’, we had a budget surplus. In just one year, this became a $27 billion deficit. In two years, it reached a mind-blowing $60 billion. The decision to throw $80 billion down the toilet with a “stimulus package” that did nothing more than destroy our budget finances, and leave us with a mountain of debt was an act of fiscal vandalism unmatched in recent history.

This alone should earn them a place in the annals of history as one of the worst governments Australia has seen.

But that is just the start.

The Gillard-Rudd government decided to drag our labour market system back to the 1960’s with the Fair Work Act, with command and control style restrictions on the economy to the scale that would made the Hawke-Keating administrations look like free-market extremists. The result, of course, was plummeting international competitiveness, small business closures up 48%, and record numbers of crippling strikes across Australia, while working days lost to strikes, which had been trending downwards for 15 years, shot up  fivefold (I suspect, although obviously can not prove, that the details of this legislation, or just how much it set out to micromanage every dealing between employer and employee is little known by libertarian keyboard warriors).

And then, of course, there is the white elephant of the NBN, the spending blowouts of Gonski, and the unfunded liability disaster that will be the NDIS. And then there was their corporate welfare, with multi-million dollar payouts to car manufacturers (again, something the Abbott government stopped).

This was done in tandem with a slashing of the immigration intake, and the imposition of severe restrictions on foreign workers in Australia. And to exacerbate the economic cost of their government, they imposed both a carbon tax, and an economically illiterate mining tax, in an an attempt to crush the most productive sector of our economy.

To recap: Budget blowouts, a micro-managed labour market, slashing immigration, a carbon tax, a mining tax, the NDIS, NBN, and Gonski, with record corporate welfare payments on top.

But that isn’t the full story.

The record on civil liberties was even worse.

The Rudd-Gillard government saw the most concerted attack on freedom of speech seen in Australia outside the Second World War. They proposed an unprecedented media censorship and licensing regime, wanting to bring in government-sanctioned journalism. They wanted to make it unlawful to ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ someone, and make you “guilty unless proven innocent” with laws that would also  destroy religious liberties, persecute the innocent, and make a mockery of free-thought. And they were the first to propose plans to secretly record every email you send, every private message on facebook you post, and every tweet you send – a data retention program far more advanced than anything Tony is bringing in now!

As if all this wasn’t enough, they introduced some of the greatest attacks on individual freedoms and personal responsibility through the nanny-state gone mad, with hikes in lifestyle taxes, in particular on alcopps and tobacco, created plain packaging for tobacco products, and established the Australian National Preventative Health Agency with a budget of $40 million a year to do little more than lobby for more restrictions (an agency the Abbott government fortunately abolished).

Granted, the Rudd-Gillard governments did do some good. They tweaked single-parenting payments… and … well, there is probably something else, but I can’t think of it? But I concede, there probably is.

In comparison to this legacy of economic destruction and attacks on liberty in every sphere, how can anyone even remotely of sound mind argue that the Abbott government comes close? Milquetoast and politically inept it may well be, but how can you argue with a straight face that anything they have done even comes close to matching this level of statism.

Granted, they have utterly failed to live up to the hopes of many. They have refused to cut spending, only slow the rate of its growth. Despite the rhetoric, the 2014-15 budget increased expenditure, it did not reduce it. The government has abandoned its promise to reform 18C, hasn’t cut the NDIS, and refuse to scrap the RET. They have also introduced a foolish ‘marriage counselling’ trial, a ‘medical research fund’, and despite slashing corporate welfare generally, nonetheless broadly continued the practice. Their decision to block GrainCorp was a disgrace, as is the medical research fund.

But can anyone honestly argue that failing to sufficiently wind back the anti-liberty agenda of the previous government is identical to enacting it? That merely cutting the growth rate of spending is somehow worse than massively increasing it?

And this isn’t even factoring in how the Abbott government is attempting to bring in deregulation to our tertiary education sector, or implement price signals into Medicare, two long-lasting reforms that the libertarian movement should applaud, or how they successfully abolished both the carbon and mining taxes. Nor does it factor in how it is likely more would be done, were they not hamstrung by a senate with several cross-benchers controlled by a lunatic.

I will concede, in the field of national security, there have been more restrictions on freedom (passed with bipartisan support) than the previous government was able to introduce (not for want of trying); it may be small conmfort, but at least their metadata collection plan wasn’t as broad as Gillards. But to state that this somehow makes them worse overall for liberty is simply nonsense. As bad as the new laws are, their cumulative impacts are not even comparable to that which was done by the previous government.

I certainly can understand (but not agree with) tactical arguments that classical liberals shouldn’t support the Coalition. This is a valid debate to have.  They certainly have been disappointing, I will not deny that. What isn’t valid, however, is to blatantly ignore all the evidence and type furious online missives on how they are somewhat worse, and you certainly don’t need to be a supporter of the government to recognise this.

The simple reality is that anyone who claims the Abbott Government is worse for liberty than Rudd-Gillard is not either a troll, idiot, or blatant liar.

For despite all their – many – faults, the evidence is abundantly clear: there can be no doubt whatsoever that the current government is nowhere near as bad as the last one.

EDIT: I have been reminded also that: “Worth adding onto the list of idiocies of the Rudd/Gillard years is the shutting down of the live export trade – something that was definitely felt down this way. How they handled that super trawler was also similarly shocking.”

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4 Responses to “Comparing the Rudd-Gillard vs Abbott legacy”

  1. Stephan Livera Says:

    Good point Tim, the Rudd-Gillard government was breathtakingly bad on budgets. I would agree with the overall thrust of your post: which is that this government is not worse than the Rudd-Gillard government one.

    On whether or not libertarians should support the Coalition, I don’t think they should. I think libertarians would do well to separate themselves from the entire left-right false dichotomy, and establish libertarianism as something truly different.

    That said, I do see value in different approaches to spreading liberty. Each libertarian should focus on whatever area they think they are strongest in: whether that be writing, speaking, doing YouTube videos or something else entirely.

  2. Tim Andrews Says:

    Stephen,

    I think there are 3 separate issues here: is Abbott worse than Rudd/Gillard, should libertarians support the Coalition, and what are the best approaches to supporting liberty.

    This piece was directed purely to the first of these question.

    I certainly recognise and understand the argument that libertarians shouldn’t support the Coalition.

    My general position is that, as you say, there is value in different approaches to spreading liberty, whether it be writing/speaking/youtube etc as you say – but I would also say that there is a value to nudging mainstream political parties to a more pro-liberty agenda… and I think that will be the theme of my next post 🙂

  3. ohdeah Says:

    Well done – love reading your articles

  4. Mark O'really Says:

    Both sides of politics seem to have the same arguement: “At least my favoured group of political incompetents isn’t as bad as your favoured group of political incompletents”.

    When that is the best defense either side of politics can produce, we are screwed.

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