Coffee House

The Economist, Guardian, New York Times and The Age are wrong about Kevin Rudd

2 September 2013

9:33 AM

2 September 2013

9:33 AM

The Economist magazine is beginning to look a lot like the Guardian, the New York Times and the Age in Melbourne: its editorial pages are so dripping wet that one has great difficulty in turning them.

How else to account for this endorsement of the Australian Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for re-election on 7 September?  Labor’s ‘decent record’ in recent years, it argues, makes it the best party to face the challenges of the future.

Yet this is a government that has turned a $20 billion surplus it inherited from John Howard’s Coalition in late 2007 into a whopping budget black hole and rising national debt.

A government that has imposed a carbon price that is five times as high as that under the European Union’s emissions trading scheme at a time when Australia’s trade competitors chug up the smoky road to prosperity.

A government that wants to spend $40 billion to deliver some kind of digital nirvana to every Aussie household in the next decade, without the faintest idea how it might be done commercially or whether consumers would be willing to support the huge costs of a broadband network.

Tony Abbott, the conservative Opposition leader, is hardly the reincarnation of Milton Friedman: his support for a big-spending paid maternity scheme, for example, suggests he is sometimes prone to paternalism. But Abbott’s broad agenda consists of cutting taxes to help create incentives for private enterprise to take risks and invest.


Rudd, however, has no truck for genuine liberal principles of small government and free markets that purportedly define the Economist’s editorial philosophy. During his first term, he blamed ‘neo-liberalism’ for causing the global financial crisis, and he has since credited his government’s record stimulus spending and pro-union policies for saving Australia from economic contagion.

Never mind that Australia actually weathered the global storm thanks to a record commodities boom and free-market policies Rudd so likes to deride. Labor had inherited a dozen years of budget surpluses from the previous conservative government, of which Abbott was a senior minister, giving Rudd a strong fiscal position from which he could try to use tax dollars to fuel a recovery.

Moreover, Australia has not suffered an economic contraction since the early 1990s because its leaders from 1983 to 2007 had implemented a smart mix of free-market economic reforms, fiscal restraint, free trade and sound monetary policy that encouraged the private economy to grow. Australia still relies on foreign investment to help finance growth.

And yet just last week the Prime Minister, whom the Economist lauds, attacked foreign investment to Australia as a way of appealing to old-fashioned protectionists, whose preferences he desperately needs in order to stay competitive in his home state of Queensland.

As for border protection – a red-hot political issue down under – the Economist attacks Tony Abbott’s ‘populism’. And yet the Opposition leader merely seeks to emulate John Howard’s sound policy of temporary protection visas, refugee offshore processing and turning back the boats, which helped stop unlawful arrivals and boost public confidence in orderly, large-scale and non-discriminatory legal immigration.

The Rudd government’s decision to dismantle the so-called Pacific Solution in mid-2008 marked a turning point in immigration policy down under. By ending the Howard policy that had deterred the people smugglers, Rudd’s volte face helped lead to 50,000 unlawful arrivals and more than 1100 tragic deaths on the seas. Which is why Rudd himself, in an attempt to repair the electoral damage that his soft border protection policies have engendered, has lurched to the right of Abbott and sought to send all boat people to Papua New Guinea without any legal reviews.

And then there is what can only be described as the Economist’s condescension towards the Antipodes. It has consistently remarked that our political scene is something of an embarrassment; and its recent editorial once again bemoans the quality of political leadership down under. Not a great choice in candidates, it wails.

But what would the Economist prefer? The British, who are still recovering from the widespread expenses scandal? Or the French, who lost its star socialist presidential candidate to an ankle bracelet and charges of attempted rape in a $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel suite? Or the Italians, whose past (future?) leader has been subjected to lawsuits for everything from corruption to under-age sex?

For a nation of only 22 million people, Australia is run by political grown-ups who preside over what most seasoned economists recognise as the envy of the industrialised and financial world.

Julia Gillard had painted herself into an unending series of political corners, but as grating as she may have been she was no Sarah Palin or Marine Le Pen. Tony Abbott may offend the sensibilities of the metropolitan sophisticates, but unlike one former British Labour deputy prime ministers he never punches punters. His conservative coalition colleagues might question alarmist predictions of man-made global warming, but unlike US Democratic Senate candidates they never shoot rifles at carbon tax bills in campaign commercials.

The fact is, barring an act of God or a military coup, the centre-right Coalition will convincingly defeat Labor in Saturday’s federal election and Tony Abbott will become Australia’s next Prime Minister. Keep the sharp objects away from the Economist’s editors, please.

Tom Switzer is editor of Spectator Australia.  

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • tim

    What a bunch of ultra RIGHT wing comments we have here! Its sad that its so pathetic. Praise be the lord and I am Margret Thatcher in drag!! Glad I live in Australia even with a incompetent, accident-prone Tony Abbott

  • Tanya

    I have to say it bothers me that you needed to refer to political scandals and absolutely ridiculous political characters to make ours seem intelligent and rational. Sarah Palin was definitely an exceptionally appalling candidate, we are really not setting the bar high if this is who we are benchmarking ourselves against (this goes for all the politicians you have been using for comparison)

  • kevinlynch1005

    A sharp turn to the right everywhere will see huge economic benefits. No guarantees for private activity ie.without the safety net (moral hazard) of a state guarantee, banks will be forced to adopt a cautious and sensible approach to lending, or risk perishing. Slash welfare. Curtail or even abolish the NHS and similar plans. Cut employment red tape. Invest in emerging market businesses via private equity, rather than simply give away money ie. “aid”, except perhaps in humanitarian emergencies. Let innovation thrive. As such,the only state spending, apart from law and order of course, should be in education. We should be more like the Americans, in short.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Who would vote for Rudd? Look what he’s done to the cricket team..

  • bugalugs2

    “Keep the sharp objects away from theEconomist’s editors, please.”

    Why? Sounds like making room for some new blood at the Economist who might be committed to their original small government values would be a good thing …

  • TenPillocksInARoom

    “most seasoned economists recognise as the envy of the industrialised and financial world”

    Mainly because of high commodity prices and a political system that can deal with that, unlike, say, the DRC. If China slows down, deliberately or otherwise, then you are in trouble.

    So you’re at the whim of the CCP, but better governed than the DRC. Sorry, but doesn’t sound all that enviable …

  • Felix Enger

    How dare Switzer condemn “metropolitan sophisticates” when he is almost certainly the most metrosexual man and coolest cat in all of Sydney, excluding Justin Hemmes. Indeed, I was urged to read this “epic takedown” by epic tweeter Mark Textor, a hipster so cool he keeps pampered designer fowl on his estate, hand-feeding them organic gruel in between tweeting about the plight of asylum-seekers and other matters of the bleeding heart. The Economist has obviously lost its way in many respects although many Aussie conservatives will end up hoping for a coup or Act of God after a government led by Señor Abbott slops out from scarce taxpayer resources $75K per baby to new mothers to change nappies for 6 months and $16M to a profitable, foreign-owned chocolate factory on Tasmania. A change of government is likely but, for mine, it won’t change anywhere near enough.

  • NotYouNotSure

    The author is mistaken if he thinks the Economist still a pro small government outlet. Most of its articles start like this: “We support limited government, except for (insert what the article is about here)”, the list of where it does not support limited government is growing ever bigger. The Economist has not only turned left, but its turned hard left.

  • Makroon

    If Abbott wins the election, Cameron should arrange an early visit.
    The bloke has good reflexes, was born in London and is supposed to be an Anglophile. Good opportunity to give the Anglo-Oz relationship a bit of attention.

  • tjamesjones

    Yes I totally agree with this. The Economist also backed Barrack over Mitt Romney – they took the easy option to follow the populist herd, rather than making the case for a successful moderate conservative, who has had real successes both in politics and industry.

    I fully intended to ‘not renew my subsciption’, after that, but failed to remove the direct debit in time and so I’m still reading the wretched thing.

    As an explanation for this trend, it’s a good point by @700islands:disqus, which I had not previously considered – the paper has moved with its corporatist audience. A glance through the advertising in the 24th August edition: rolex, ford and accenture, but then european bank for reconstruction, UN, APEC secretariat, Amnesty etc. Quango heaven. Global Technocratic Elite.

  • Greenslime

    “Yet this is a government that has turned a $20 billion surplus it
    inherited from John Howard’s Coalition in late 2007 into a whopping
    budget black hole and rising national debt.”

    McDoom and Balls haven’t been down there helping them to run the place have they?

  • 700islands

    The Economist went south when it started to take ads and this, unfortunately, has made them tread on egg shells rather than hold Governments to account. The paper soon filled up with a lot of Government jobs, or quango jobs. The EU is often one of the largest advertisers. They then lost their edge and became an endorsor not of ideas or policy but of incumbents, of whatever stripe.

    I started reading the “newspaper”, as they call themselves, in school when my father got me a subscription. Aside from the colour cover it was black and white on low quality paper with no ads except for a classified page at the back, but it was very well written, often cutting, pro-free market and democracy, anti-communist and a champion of the West in the Cold War. It was a good read then. Every boss read it. It was pre-internet and you simply could not get the kind of information and insight the magazine offered anywhere else.

    Now it is read by the corporatist types and the quangocrats and so has come adept at letting the emperor’s attendants know that really the new suit is jolly nice indeed.

    I’ve stopped reading it.

  • Gixxerboy

    Well said Tom. I gave up on the Economist in the late 90s. It was already degenerating into PC infantilism in certain articles. In the last few years its editorial line has become indistinguishable from the omnipresent Social Democratic opinions in other media. And the writing has hit rock bottom. The propaganda is not as blatant as Time, say, but it is a rag.

    • Rush_is_Right

      This is hardly new. I thought the Economist was Left wing crap when they made us read it at school. And that was in the 1960s.

    • ojfl

      One thing that really irritates me about The Economist Gixxerboy, is how schizophrenic their articles have become. They claim to be a pro free market publication. And then they endorse Labor in Australia. And they endorsed president Obama twice over Republicans. In the same edition they say Europe needs to liberalize more their economy, while in the very same issue they say the US should regulate more this and that part of the economy, that the US government should do this or that. And then again in the same issue they say another country in Asia needs to liberalize this or that part of the economy and in the very same issue again they say South America needs to put together a government response to this and that problem. I sometimes do not know what to make about their editorial choices.

      • Gixxerboy

        A good observation. It seems just like that when I am reduced to reading a copy, usually in an airport lounge somewhere. it’s as though there are a few hold-outs from the Alastair Burnet/Andrew Knight era. Things started to go seriously wrong under BIll Emmot and now it’s in the hands of Micklethwait. He’s a Bilderberg Group participant, so almost certainly a Common Purpose/Agenda 21 closet socialist.

        • ojfl

          Excellent historic observation on the editorial, Gixxerboy. I am thinking of not renewing my subscription but it is hard to find another publication that covers the economy of the entire globe. Do you have any suggestions for a replacement?

          • Gixxerboy

            I think you’ll be fine reading it ojfl, because you clearly have a fully functioning, independent mind ;-). In short, no, I can;t think of a direct replacement. And some of the information and analysis is useful, so long as it is viewed through an aware, sceptical lens.

            • ojfl

              Thank you Gixxerboy. I will see what I will do.

  • sir_graphus

    If only our problems were this bad.