Socialist Worker

Mining bosses provoke fall of Australian Labour prime minister

by Ian Rentoul
Issue No. 2208

The Australian Labour prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has been ousted from office after a storm of opposition from powerful mining bosses to a planned tax on their profits.

But Rudd was already fatally weakened as Labour’s record in office left its supporters disillusioned.

Rudd was initially hugely popular after Labour defeated the conservative government of John Howard in 2007 following over 11 years of Tory rule.

But his popularity plummeted in recent months as a series of retreats symbolised Labour’s failure to deliver on its promises of change.

With a federal election due in the next few months, opinion polls showed Labour was on the verge of being unelectable.

Labour’s number crunchers launched a palace coup to install Rudd’s deputy, Julia Gillard, as prime minister.

The most significant issue was climate change. Rudd once described climate change as “the greatest moral challenge of our time.” But when Copenhagen climate talks failed and Australia’s Tories refused to negotiate a domestic carbon trading scheme, Rudd walked away from the issue.

According to an opinion poll in May, Labour lost a million supporters in a fortnight, much of them going to the Greens. Rudd went into decline, and never recovered.

With polls plummeting, Rudd announced a 40 per cent super profits tax to put the Australian budget back in surplus by 2013.

The moved backfired. The mining companies waged a strident campaign against the tax, producing television ads and threatening an investment strike.

But among Labour supporters, Rudd’s credibility was already shot to bits. For all his talk about “working families”, nothing substantial had been delivered.

The proceeds of the super-profits tax was going to be used to cut overall company tax levels, not to boost spending on education or health.

Rather than stand up to Australia’s Tories, Rudd engaged in a race to the bottom over being tough on refugees, even re-opening one of Howard’s desert detention centres.

His big housing insulation program collapsed when it emerged that shady operators were profiteering and faulty installation was the cause of a number of house fires.

No-one believed Rudd had the backbone to stand up to the mine bosses and his support declined further.

Throughout Rudd’s backflips, Julia Gillard stood at his side. She is nominally from the Labour left but has made a career of supporting the right—most notoriously by opposing humanitarian refugee policies.

Mining company stock prices jumped with the announcement that Gillard had replaced Kevin Rudd as Labour leader.

At her first press conference, Gillard declared that her door was open to the mining bosses and dropped the government’s pro-tax TV campaign as a concession to the mining companies.

Gillard is also extremely unpopular with the unions.

As Employment Minister she maintained some of the draconian anti-union policies of the Howard government. Ark Tribe, a construction union shop steward faces six months jail under the laws for refusing to give evidence about a union meeting to the Building Task Force investigators—a body Gillard describes as, “a strong cop on the beat.”

Gillard’s elevation to the Labour leadership has given Labour’s polls a boost. It may be enough to get Labuor re-elected, but nothing’s really changed and Labour’s underlying crisis remains unresolved.

Ian Rentoul is a member of Solidarity, Australia. Go to »

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Article information

Tue 29 Jun 2010, 18:49 BST
Issue No. 2208
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