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Lessons from down under

Gaye Johnston on the pay-offs from Kevin Rudd's break with neo-liberalism

At the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting on 8th June 2009 a chastened Gordon Brown promised to learn lessons in order to make him a better Labour Prime Minister. He needs to learn from the contemporary example of successful democratic socialist government in Australia from which the author recently returned. Kevin Rudd's Australian Labour Government has been in office for a slightly shorter period than has Gordon Brown's administration. In that time it has achieved much more for working people and a better record of economic management during world recession.

This Government promptly repealed all anti-trades union legislation of its Liberal predecessor. It was replaced with extensive statutory rights for workers. This has been achieved, despite having no overall parliamentary majority, and in the face of a vicious sustained attack from the Liberal opposition. Back in the UK we still wait for a New Labour Government to abolish any of Mrs Thatcher's draconian anti-union laws even after twelve years in office.

There is an active policy to increase investment in social rented housing (which the Brown government is belatedly to start). This policy is particularly focused on aboriginal communities who have a long backlog of appalling housing conditions which the Liberal Government did nothing to improve. In a flash of inspiration a first homebuyer's grant of £11,000 has been offered to all eligible over a period of nine months. This may not seem to be an entirely left-wing measure but most first home buyers tend to be at the less affluent end of the purchaser's spectrum. Crucially this measure has kept the Australian housing market from grinding to a halt and house prices from plummeting as rapidly as they have in Britain.

In the UK pensioners have had a raw deal under Blair and Brown governments. The value of our state pension continues to wither away. Mr Brown has promised that state pensions will again rise in line with wages from 2012, 'if it can be afforded'. In the wake of the current economic crisis which of us believes that it will be found to be affordable then? On the other hand MrRudd recently announced that although some public expenditure cuts are inevitable, due to the economic situation, their new and more generous state pension scheme will not be adversely affected.

In the UK, government billions have been poured into banks but borrowing is scarcely easier despite this action. The Australian Government has shored up banks to a limited extent but most recession easing investment has gone into elector's pockets (mainly through cash payments to low income households). This was in the, largely justified, expectation that they would spend it on goods and services and so save jobs. The sum of £400 was given to each of the 10 million least well off households in Australia. As was correctly predicted, most of this grant was spent rapidly on goods and services. The remainder was largely spent to pay off debts which would probably release money for future consumer spending. Unfortunately some administrative errors were made in distributing this money but that does not negate the intrinsic worth of the scheme.

It is a case less serious than the worthwhile UK working families tax credit which frequently over pays in error and then impoverishes disadvantaged families by requiring unaffordable pay backs. The remaining significant Australian Labour government measure designed to counter thethreat of more serious recession has been large scale direct Government investment in infrastructure- particularly in new school buildings and roads. The Rudd government practises real Keynsian job retention and creation. All this has paid off, in the last week of May 2009 it was officially announced that Australia is no longer in recession.

So what does the Aussie public think of this dangerous democratic socialist Government? Kevin Rudd attained an average 65% approval rating in opinion polls this year. He is set fair to win a second term of office in 2010. Indeed every Australian Labour Government since 1936 hasachieved that second term. Regrettably there is very little news of Australian politics carried in the British media. Australia may be 10,000 miles away but its culture and society are still very similar to those of the UK. Many Australians are British born or second generation. A high proportion of television programmes shown in Oz were originally made for the BBC! Political lessons learnt from Down Under are more likely to be relevant to the UK than are those imported from most other countries. It's time for our Labour Government to learn from, and emulate, Kevin Rudd's successes.