Will The Real Gillard Make Better Policy?

Will the ALP’s shift in strategy produce better policy, asks guest poster Leigh Ewbank. And if not, where will the new ideas come from?

After a disastrous week on the campaign trail PM Gillard is attempting to rejuvenate her campaign by revealing the “real Julia.” A slip in the polls has prompted Gillard to reject the “the risk-averse orthodoxy of modern campaigning.” Moving away from a risk averse and stage-managed campaign sounds like a good idea, but why stop there? Why not give up on “risk-averse orthodoxy” as a program of governance?

The modern Labor party is as cautious and poll driven as they come. The first term Labor government did not articulate a clear vision for Australia nor did it present a set of values and beliefs that guide its approach to governing. Labor needs more than the “real” Julia Gillard. It needs to rejuvenate itself with progressive values and policy ideas.

Labor is now far from the mark. In the days after Labor axed its leader Kevin Rudd, The Australian’s Paul Kelly characterised the party this way:

The coup that installed Julia Gillard was driven neither by policy nor ideology; it is about image, party management and election survival, and constitutes a new method of Labor rule. For Labor, anything but election victory is intolerable because victory is its only rationale.

The way Gillard handled the post-coup cleanup is consistent with Kelly’s assessment. Gillard’s brief time at the helm doesn’t inspire confidence that a reelected Labor government will change tack any time soon.

Take Gillard’s response to Kevin Rudd’s ‘big Australia’ idea. Instead of using her leadership position to explain that Australia’s growing population and immigration intake are not the causes of congestion and poor infrastructure provision, Gillard opted for cosmetic changes targeted at marginal electorates. Gillard might have proposed an increased role for the Commonwealth in urban planning decision making and established a ministry devoted to the task, but rather than a substantive policy response, all that changed was the title of the recently appointed—insert “Sustainable”—Population Minister Tony Burke.

Gillard’s short time as Prime Minister is not a perfect indicator for how she will govern if Labor is reelected. Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the deeper problems facing the ALP.

Labor advisers would be wise to take a look at how the Centre for Policy Development (CPD), is working to advance progressive policymaking in Australia. The Centre has just released a new e-book called More Than Luck: Ideas Australia Needs Now with chapters authored by leading progressive thinkers outlining priorities for the next Australian government.

Australians have to wait for August 21 to see whether Labor will get the opportunity to govern for another three years. And we’ll have to wait a little longer to see whether Labor throws away risk-averse governance. When there are new ideas like those presented by the Centre for Policy Development, there is hope for an alternative approach.

This was first posted at The Real Ewbank.