On Saturday, the Labor Party celebrated five years of government. It seems hard to believe, but it’s true: half a decade has passed since Australians flocked to election booths to vote out John Howard’s Liberal government, and to vote in Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party.
It must have been a bittersweet day for Rudd, as he and the rest of the Labor Party reflected on their successes.
It cannot be disputed that the historic apology to the Stolen Generation is one of the greatest achievements of this Federal Government, and one of the successes of a government led by the former Prime Minister.
On February 13, 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered a broad apology to all Aborigines and the Stolen Generations for their “profound grief, suffering and loss”.
“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians,” the apology read. The historical speech was received with a standing ovation, and significant displays of emotion from Indigenous Australians.
Kevin Rudd was also responsible for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on December 3rd, 2007. It was his first act as Prime Minister.
“This is the first official act of the new Australian Government, demonstrating my Government’s commitment to tackling climate change,” Mr Rudd said in a statement.
The Labor Government also did what many voted it in to do – it axed John Howard’s controversial and poorly received WorkChoices legislation and restored the employment safety net and unfair dismissal rights.
It also steered Australia through the global financial crisis, a feat unmatched by other western economies. Australia was one of the few developed nations to have avoided recession during the GFC. Kevin Rudd’s stimulus package kept people in jobs, allowing Australians to spend, which kept our economy humming.
The Rudd Government also tackled the pension system, increasing payments by $172 a fortnight for single pensioners and $182 a fortnight for pensioner couples on the maximum right. In September 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard again increased the pension, strengthening the financial security of seniors, carers and people with disability.
In June 2010, just days before Rudd was ousted as leader, the Government, with the support of the Coalition, introduced a paid parental leave scheme. The scheme, which came into effect January 1st, 2011, provides 18 weeks of paid parental leave. At this time, Australia and the United States were the only western countries without such a scheme.
The steps taken by Julia Gillard and the Government to implement a national disability scheme are to be commended, but it remains to be seen if it will be an achievement or a failure. This largely depends on the Prime Minister’s own ability to convince the states that the program is worthwhile, needed and important.
Julia Gillard’s government has also managed to deliver the biggest health reforms since Medicare. An agreement between the federal and state governments in August 2011 will see an extra $19.8 billion spent on public hospitals through to 2020, and a total of $175 billion between now and 2030. Federal funding of hospitals, which was below 40 per cent in 2007, will rise to 45 per cent by 2014-15, and 50 per cent by 2017-18.
Gillard has also delivered Telstra’s structural separation plan, the final regulatory hurdle required for approval of its participation in the National Broadband Network (NBN). Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the agreement was a “landmark day for telecommunications in our country. It means real competition in telecommunications for the first time in our nation’s history.”
Many analysts argue that, in the future, the NBN will be heralded as an achievement which thrust Australia to the forefront as a technological nation. But, as it stands currently, the NBN continues to receive criticism from the Liberal Party and the public.
The carbon tax also falls into the murky success category – it’s an achievement Gillard, in her own words, got it done. Australia is now moving towards an emissions trading scheme and has taken a firmer stance on climate change, but Gillard’s broken promise to never introduce a carbon tax will forever blemish the achievement.
The current government has also delivered large educational reforms, including $6.5 billion injected into the nation’s schools over six years from 2014. However, many of these reforms are being fought by teachers, and while the My Schools website is seen as a success by Labor, it has been plagued by criticism from the educational community, with claims it places more pressure on students due to the implementation of the NAPLAN tests.
In their reflections this week, Labor politicians are most likely doing their best to avoid thinking about the failed mining tax, the insulation rebate debacle, allegations of waste in the schools stimulus program, the axing of a plan for 260 new childcare centres, the failure of the nurses recruitment program or border security.
Five years in government isn’t a particularly long time, but for the current Labor government, it certainly has been eventful. This anniversary is no time for them to rest on their laurels, however, as there is still one major question the party will have to answer before next year’s election: was it enough?