Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Rudd's plan to increase his personal power as PM

The Australian's Paul Kelly is hardly someone that could be called alarmist. His balanced, thoughtful commentary on the ABC's Insiders is the highlight of the program.

In this opinion piece he describes how Kevin Rudd intends to increase his power as Prime Minister should Labor be elected on November 24. This should come as no surprise. Rudd is fundamentally a policy wonk meaning he must have processes that involve him. He has no idea about what makes the economy tick or what drives the average citizen so he intends to have more of a micro-management role in Australia's affairs than any government since the disastrous Whitlam.

Leftist journalists such as David Marr, Phillip Adams and Margo Kingston etc drone on about the loss of personal freedom in Australia but if Rudd takes over then they'll see a loss of individual freedom unparalleled in Australia's history. Being closet totalitarians they won't say anything about that, of course.
ANY survey of Kevin Rudd’s policies leads to an inescapable conclusion: that he wants a sustained increase in the executive power of the prime minister across the spectrum of government.

Such an interpretation will be denied. It must be denied, since Labor says John Howard has assumed and abused too much executive power, implying that Labor will remedy such defects. But a tough-minded analysis of Rudd’s proposals for office leads to different conclusions.

Remember the most important signal Rudd has sent about office is his plan to select the ministry as well as allocate the portfolios. “Let me be clear about this,” Rudd said on September 27. “I’ll be determining the composition of the Labor ministry should we be elected to form the next government of the country.”

This is a direct strike for greater prime ministerial power over the factions and the caucus. Rudd’s bid for this power is unqualified and courageous. It sounds Whitlamesque in its “crash through or crash” intent. It is a break from tradition and reflects Rudd’s distrust of factional influence. It is inconsistent with the caucus rules and requires caucus consent.

Rudd has chosen to confirm only three ministers, Julia Gillard in industrial relations, Wayne Swan as treasurer and Lindsay Tanner in finance.

The rest of the ministry is open.

If Rudd gets his way then he, not caucus, will select ministers and victory will surely guarantee he gets his way. Rumours abound about whether various shadow ministers will survive but nobody knows.

It is a reminder that Rudd’s campaign is presidential, that he owes few debts and that his plans for office are kept tight.

Beyond the claim to select the ministry, Rudd plans vast changes in the system of government. There is, however, one unifying theme: greater prime ministerial power. Consider three priority areas: security, climate change and federalism.

Rudd’s policy involves the creation of an office of national security within the PM’s department.

This would be headed by a new position in the Australian system: national security adviser. It is proof that Rudd intends to enhance one of Howard’s innovations: the prime minister as national security chief.

The office of national security is probably a re-badging of the existing National Security Division within the PM’s department. But the national security adviser is a new concept.

It implies the creation of a second officer at secretary level within the department. The critical issue is whether this officer is just a bureaucratic co-ordinator (highly unlikely) or whether Rudd invests this post with policy-making authority.

In this case the national security adviser reporting to Rudd would become a rival policy source to defence, foreign affairs and the chief of the defence force.

Note that Rudd plans to commission at once a new defence white paper, sweeping in conception, which deals with the region, militant Islam and WMD proliferation.

Once this paper is received Rudd intends, among other things, to “write a more comprehensive national security statement”. Such formalisation of a national security strategy has been resisted by Howard.

Such initiatives must be seen in context. Rudd would be the most security aware incoming PM since Malcolm Fraser in 1975. He will have in Robert McClelland as foreign minister and Joel Fitzgibbon as defence minister, deeply inexperienced incumbents. It will be a situation with a PM versed in security policy, equipped with an advisory apparatus that exceeds anything Howard built, and with novice ministers.

At the same time Labor has long been pledged to create a department of homeland security, a vast cultural change to the public service and regulatory agencies.

The misgivings within the bureaucracy and the national security community are legion.

The new department will include Labor’s proposed coastguard, Customs, ASIO, Office of Transport Security, Australian Federal Police, emergency management, anti-money laundering and the Australian Crime Commission. Shadow minister Arch Bevis significantly likens this revolution to the Whitlam government’s 1970s creation of a super defence department that incorporated the departments of army, navy, air force and supply.

Last month Bevis said Labor would commission a counter-terrorism white paper to define a whole-of-government response and attacked the Howard Government for its rejection of the homeland security philosophy.

Now there are three things you need to know.

This is an American concept. It is an American title. It is an American failure. The US Department of Homeland Security has been little short of a disaster. Howard would not touch the notion. For Australia, it will constitute a huge project in governance and there are many security experts in Canberra warning Labor to halt this innovation. They are in for a shock. Rudd is determined to establish the homeland security department.

Consider climate change. Rudd has announced that an office of climate change will be created within the PM’s department, signalling his plan to lead on this issue domestically and internationally. Howard began this process but Rudd will command it. He will entrench a climate change policy window into the prime ministership.

Rudd’s first climate change priority is to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and this will be orchestrated at the level of prime minister. Having used climate change to define his modernist agenda, Rudd will make the post-2012 Kyoto negotiations into a central theme of his head of government diplomacy.

Don’t think for one moment the environment minister will control this operation.

The report by Ross Garnaut on a national emissions trading scheme was commissioned by Rudd and he will be the principal actor in decisions and implementation following the Garnaut report.

Consider Rudd’s pledge to fix the federation. He has raised the greatest expectations about serious federal-state reform since Whitlam. The Council of Australian Governments will become far more important as an instrument of reform. Rudd will become the pivotal figure in this process, backed by his department and working with the premiers.

This list hardly scrapes the surface of Rudd’s new agencies and statutory authorities. He will create a health and hospitals reform commission (within the first 100 days), a skills Australia authority, an infrastructure Australia authority and dozens of other statutory bodies, departments, offices, inquiries and new arrangements for industry. It raises the question: does Rudd want to govern the nation or just reorganise its government?

Here is the Rudd paradox. While an agent of me-tooism on many policies, Labor’s structure of government agenda reveals an entirely different story. The public servants working on the transition plans can hardly believe their eyes.

This Labor agenda means a deepening of the prime minister’s powers and a reorganisation of government that is Whitlamesque in its scope and its obsession about process.

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