Friday, July 09, 2010

Credit where it's due

K.Rudd is busy feeling the sand between his toes now, but I think it's worth remembering what he did for Australia in his short time. Think about 2007 - we had a government that had traded almost exclusively on hatred and fear for three terms. The country was committing human rights abuses all over, and was proud of it! Any organisation that received federal government funding was not allowed to speak out against Howard and his party. We were being urged to have more children (remember "Two to replace you and one for the country"?), while using population control arguments to treat asylum seekers like the worst of criminals. The mood was one of fear and gloom.

In two years, K.Rudd didn't change the world, but he started a mood shift that was genuinely impressive. Some of that fear and gloom changed into hope. Within weeks of being elected, the gag on federally funded NGOs was lifted (by Julia Gillard, but still under Rudd's leadership). That's a really big deal, it would have been easy to quietly leave that in place and enjoy the protection it gave the government. It certainly received minimal coverage when it happened.

Work choices went. That mattered, a lot. It was even replaced with something fairly reasonable (as judged by the fact that all sides complained about it, but not very loudly).

He ratified Kyoto! Ok, not much has come of it, but it would never have happened under Howard, and we'd be even further behind in the battle to make government take climate change seriously if Kevin 07 had failed.

He finally said "Sorry". Again, not enough has been done. I know it's only lip service, but without even that, there would be no hope of moving forward and really redressing the damage.

Then the GFC (Global Fuckupus Corporatus) happened, and surprisingly, Labor steered us through that really well. We were in a better starting position than most, but the reality is that the rest of the world hailed Rudd's stimulus package as clever and effective. The criticisms of the way the money was spent are a little beside the point. Yes there was waste, but anything that moved that fast (and let's face it, government projects operating in timetables of less than many years are very rare indeed) was going to be open to rorts and waste. By all means, name and shame the companies that rorted the system - taking the piss with money being offered to bail you out is, dare I say it, unAustralian - but for once, I don't think much of the blame lies with the government.

Even as his popularity and grip on his party slid, he was still doing stuff. Rethinking how things are done. Suggesting change. Moving somewhere. He's left this country in a very different place to where he found it, and much of it is better. It isn't fixed - the human rights abuses are still happening, but at least it's not longer a point of honour. It's probably fair to say that in many arenas, all that's changed is the rhetoric, and I find that deeply disappointing. However, it's still true that there's more hope for action when a government is talking about it than when it isn't.

I never had very high hopes for K.Rudd. He always looked way too conservative for my liking, and we saw that again and again in his leadership, but he surprised me with his actions, doing more than I thought he would. At least when he spoke in international forums, he didn't make me cringe and wish I was pretty much any nationality but Australian.

So thanks, Kev, for what you did. Thanks for being a step in the right direction, even if the step was smaller than many of us would have liked.

K.Rudd for foreign minister!

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