Friday, September 11, 2009

Writing history

What is the reason for the apparent Australian economic miracle?

Kevin Rudd has received plenty of criticism for his speech launching Paul Kelly's new book. His apparent crime is to claim all the credit for his own side of politics, both the Hawke-Keating reforms and his own stimulus.

Unsurprisngly John Howard has come out in the Oz and claimed that Rudd should come clean and realise it was the combined effort of his own term as Treasurer, then Hawke-Keating, and then his own reforms. In what mighht be a preview of his memoirs (now at 260,000 words I'm told) Howard claims there were five big reforms required from the early 1980s "financial deregulation, fundamental taxation reform, dismantling of high tariff protection, privatisation of government-owned commercial bodies and a freer labour market".

He catalogues how each was achieved, including his own inquiry to start the financial dregulation piece.

I have previously opined that the record dates back to the Whitlam Government. The choice by Howard of the five themes actually provides some support for that view, at least on two fronts. These are the 25% acoss the Board tariff cut and the move that split the PMG into Australia Post and Telecom Australia. This was really a far bigger step of corporatisation than we perhaps realised at the time.

I'm prepared to give the Fraser government more credit than Crikey did today, while it didn't act it enquired. It created the intellectual framework in which the discussions of the 80s could occur - and outside of the finance enquiry the notable achievement was the Davidson enquiry.

However, as noted by Rudd, the one thing Howard never got was competition policy. That was the one great reform of 1974 and 1995 that Howard did nothing to progress, and indeed as a Minister in the Fraser Government did a fair bit to damage.

However, the most extraordinary part is Howard claiming Rudd is belittling himself by his attempt to tell thehistory his way. I don't recall Howard being anywhere near as gracious to the Hawke-Keating economic legacy within two years of his first election, or, indeed for that matter, any point up to his own defeat in 2007.

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