I was asked to contribute a few words to a feature in The Age about how Australia has fared two years into the Rudd government. My bit dealt with the economy.
One thing is for sure, if there ever were a time when one can’t distinguish the soundness of economic management from things beyond control, the last two years would be it. A year ago, I could easily have imagined writing this assessment with the conclusion, “what’s the government of a small open economy to do?” Our expectation was for plummeting investment, high unemployment and a Government desperately trying to get things going again. Instead, the economy is strained but otherwise fine. The GFC has left hardly a dint. The Rudd government deserves considerable kudos for that.
But this also makes me nervous for the coming two years. There was and is much that still needs reform. We have proposals to deal with core issues like climate change, higher education and broadband but real implementation issues. And meanwhile there are challenges for general education, innovation and health care that remain without plans. Not to mention that the underpinnings of our system of financial regulation remain decidedly pre-GFC and need of far-reaching review. The Government’s job as economic manager remains unfinished.
The last time we found ourselves in a sound economic position, we also found ourselves with a government content to grow itself without growing its services. Surplus loving but without thinking long-term about the fundamentals. The next two years will tell us whether the Rudd Government is really something different.