Prime Minister Julia Gillard has switched her attention from winning the next election to legacy-building. As her re-election hopes grow dimmer, Australia’s first female Prime Minister is concentrated on establishing her place in Labor history.
Take the May Budget, the final budget before the government faces the electorate on September 14. It was not a “game-changer” nor a “vote-catcher”.
Looked at dispassionately, its overriding purpose was to bed down two pieces of historic social policy – the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski plan to increase school funding by $9.8 billion.
Introducing the NDIS legislation with a trembling voice, Ms Gillard shed tears at the despatch box. The TV news bulletins gave her emotional moment top-of-the-bulletin billing.
As Prime Minister she has achieved three Facebook/TV moments – when she was bundled into her official car by her security detail in Canberra in 2012, when she delivered her “misogyny” attack on Tony Abbott in parliament in October last year and now her teary moment when presenting legislation to provide insurance cover for the disabled.
These memorable moments will be played and replayed in the years ahead just as we are regularly reminded of Gough Whitlam’s “but nothing can save the Governor-General” speech on the steps of the Old Parliament House, Bob Hawke’s “any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum” after Australia’s victory in the 1983 America’s Cup and Kevin Rudd’s tearful apology to the nation’s indigenous people on February 13, 2008.
Gillard shares the NIDS victory with John Della Bosca, former general secretary of the NSW Labor Party who became national campaign director of the NIDS project after joining the National Disability and Carers Alliance when his political career as a NSW Cabinet minister imploded in 2010.
The windfall for the private insurance industry is incalculable. Suffice to say it will be worth billions of dollars in the coming years to the industry which is heavily foreign owned – Allianz, Lloyds, Zurich Financial Services and Munich Holdings.
Voters have been conned into believing that the Commonwealth Government has entered the insurance market with a state-funded and state-operated insurance scheme for the disabled. Not so. The Commonwealth (i.e. taxpayers) are guaranteeing the scheme but its actual operation will be outsourced to the private insurance sector.
This is the sector which has been hit by a series of multi-billion-dollar claims from floods, fires and cyclones and the NIDS scheme will be a godsend to the bottom line of the parasitic insurance industry.
They can be expected to gouge profits for the new disability business and we, the taxpayers, will be paying for it into the indefinite future. The only way to prevent wanton profit-gouging by the private industry is to set up a Commonwealth insurance entity, much like the old State Government Insurance Office (SGIO), and have its books, funding and practices the subject of annual reports to Parliament.
The Gonski plan which, incidentally, guarantees a continuation of the current over-funding of the private, independent and religious school sector, is another policy area where Ms Gillard seems more interested in “wedging” Tony Abbott and legacy-building.
Her troops are being asked to charge at the Coalition’s barricades which are fortified with Gatling guns. The loss of life (seats) is going to be Somme-scale devastation.
No wonder the Rudd forces are again growing agitated and testing the water for an 11th hour challenge. If successful, they would throw out Wayne Swan and Stephen Conroy (among others), dump the carbon tax and the mining tax, postpone the election until December and try to limit the number of seats they will inevitably lose.
Legacies? France leads the way
When it comes to political legacies the French are world leaders. They set the standard.
In the 1970s, President Georges Pompidou commissioned a contemporary art museum which is now named the Pompidou Centre, a favourite venue for visitors from around the world.
His successor, President Valery Giscard d’Estaing built the Musée d’Orsay, another contemporary art institution located in a redesigned train station on the banks of the River Seine.
France’s first Socialist Party president of the Fifth Republic, François Mitterrand (1981-1995), built the striking glass pyramid located outside the Louvre, a monumental library that bears his name with four 79-meter towers, and a second Opera house on the Bastille Square, birthplace of the 1789 French Revolution.
President Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist who led the country from 1995 to 2002, established the Musée du Quai Branly, dedicated to primitive art from across the globe, which cost more than 230 million euros (about half a billion Aussie dollars).
President Nicholas Sarkozy’s pet project, the History of France museum, has been halted by his successor, Socialist Party President François Hollande, aka “Mr Normal”, as part of his government’s austerity campaign.
Hollande is such a colourless figure that observers are predicting that his legacy may be a car park.
Over in London the virulent group of Thatcher lovers are planning to erect a statue of her at Westminster (how long will it stand upright?) and her greatest fan, Rupert Murdoch, has set his media loose on a campaign to build a “presidential library” in her honour.
There are two things wrong with this proposal: Thatcher was responsible for shutting more libraries than any other Prime Minister in British history and there is no recorded case of her ever reading a contemporary novel, play or book of poetry. She confined her reading to Whitehall reports and intelligence files.