Rudd’s Reply

A few quick comments on Kevin Rudd’s Budget Reply speech.

1. The text was very well crafted, full of clear undertakings and strong metaphors, and Rudd delivered it with a nice balance between enthusiasm and calm authority. There was none of Beazley’s verbosity or Latham’s transparently focus-group-tested catch phrases. Rudd’s team obviously made up their mind that the best way to deal with Costello’s budget was to barely mention it. He didn’t discuss any of the government’s specific spending or revenue measures at all, except to make the obligatory accusation that the budget is designed to win votes in the election. He talked exclusively about Labor’s alternative, far-sighted plans, inviting listeners to see the contrast for themselves.

2. It was an oddly unbalanced statement. We were told that three themes would be covered: education and other measures to raise productivity growth; plans to deal with global warming; and industrial relations. But Rudd devoted about twenty minutes to the first topic, at most three or four minutes to climate issues, and one or two to industrial relations. For some reason Rudd never mentioned global warming without coupling it with the water shortage, as if this was the only manisfestation of global warming that voters could take seriously. Does this mean that Rudd’s team thinks the Coallition has succeeded in depicting broader climate anxiety as the province of zealots? Apart from a very modest proposal about fixing leaky pipes, there were no further details at all about energy policy. Given that Labor is trying to distinguish itself as the party that (a) takes global warming seriously and (b) will not contemplate domestic nuclear power generation, one would have expected that some dramatic plans would be announced for investment and/or research in clean coal and renewable energy generation. But there was nothing.

3. The basic argument was sound, namely that the mining boom will not last for ever, that continued productivity growth is the only guarantee of rising living standards, and that education and skills are in turn the key to high productivity. The rationale for some of the particular meausures was not obvious. Why, for example, should we develop technical training by outfitting schools, rather than expanding TAFE? Restoration of Asian language programs is a good idea in its own right, but the connection with productivity is tenuous. The need for broadband is clear enough, but a critic who believes that government efforts would be better directed at removing the obstacles to private-sector provision, would not have been won over to Labor’s policy tonight. I’ll leave it for people like Nicholas to assess the proposals to promote funds management and reduce red tape for small business.

4. One very concrete promise that may come back to haunt Rudd was the undertaking not to increase tax as a proportion of GDP. This may be feasible in the span of a single parliament, but not in the long term, and not if the trend to federal control over state responsibilties continues, as it shows every sign of doing under Rudd. Health expenditure is sure to rise as a fraction of national expenditure, and so will education if labor is serious about its human capital agenda. The only way to prevent the tax burden rising would be through privatisation or higher fees for education and health services, neither of which Rudd has shown any interest in pursuing.

5. Even stranger than the sketchy energy policy was the cursory attention to industrial relations policy. Since it is not really a budget matter, there was no point in mentioning it at all if it could not be linked to the the other major economic priorities. But of course it could have been linked. Why not tell voters that future prosperity lies not just in endlessly rising material consumption, nor even in preserving a healthy biosphere, but also in job security, good employment conditions, dignity for employees and so on? By not explictly making these integral to the vision, Rudd left it open for someone like Chris Richardson, an accountant who masquerades as an economist, to write Labor a ‘mixed report card’ on the 7.30 Report. Richardson made the dubious claim that the Opposition’s IR policy undermines its goal of higher productivity growth. Rudd and Gillard could refute this with facts and figures. But a more effective strategy would be to highlight the benefits of empowering workers, and point out that a measure of productivity that can be increased by terrorising workers, is not a worthwhile goal anyway.

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Mark Bahnisch
16 years ago

James, it’s worth noting that budget replies have never covered the whole scope of policy. They’re usually used to put some flesh on the policy bones by announcing a few key initiatives.

That’s why I’m unsure about the second point you make.

Rudd has already signalled support for research on renewables and clean coal. He wasn’t giving a policy speech, and he wasn’t obliged to repeat every previous Labor commitment. The choice of water is a counter to two things – the first being the government’s disinclination to link water and climate change (so it helps pain them as having their heads in the sand) and the second being that the climate change issue has taken hold precisely because observable weather differences and their consequences have reinforced its salience. It was extraordinary, as I’ve argued here, that Costello’s references to the drought and water only related to the bush. In South East Queensland, we’ve got level five water restrictions and level six probably in November. And almost 2 million voters! Most of whom know that the feds haven’t given a brass razoo to help build the recycled water pipeline which will ensure that we actually still have water to drink in 2008.

The government will be responding to their emissions report in late May. Labor will no doubt respond after they lay out their proposals. Rudd signalled the importance of the issue, and they won’t want either to release everything now or to have the government steal their promises again.

Why, for example, should we develop technical training by outfitting schools, rather than expanding TAFE?

The link is that it’s tied to raising school retention (which has gone backward under Howard). The kids leaving school, as Rudd said in the speech, are the ones who would benefit most from tech training. It also demonstrates how well targeted policy trumps the measly initiatives that the government gives – which taken as a whole are very expensive but individually of very marginal value – does anyone really believe a toolkit and twenty bucks a week for apprentices will solve the skills crisis?

Even stranger than the sketchy energy policy was the cursory attention to industrial relations policy. Since it is not really a budget matter, there was no point in mentioning it at all if it could not be linked to the the other major economic priorities

Again, I think you’re undercutting your own argument, James. Rudd mentioned it at the start as the most telling example of his “fair go” theme. He wouldn’t want his budget reply drowned out by yet another hysterical and misinformed “debate” over IR. He mentioned national security as one of his objectives at the start as well, but he didn’t come back to it. He was laying out markers for Labor’s approach (what does the government have except its records and negative attacks on Labor?) and then the specific proposals illustrated key areas and gave people an idea of what Labor would do in government.

I really think you’re applying the wrong tests to the speech.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
16 years ago

James Farrell:

Restoration of Asian language programs is a good idea in its own right, but the connection with productivity is tenuous.

What? This is 2007, not 1957. If you don’t want to end up as a day-labourer or unemployed, you had better start becoming fluent and literate in a major Asian language pretty smartly. The connection between proficency in a major Asian language and productivity is not tenuous at all – if you can’t understand what the boss tells you then you won’t be very productive.

Rudd’s mention of the importance of Asian languages so that we can engage with Asia sounded lovely but it was detail-free.

Is he going to ditch that useless, counter-productive LOTE sacred cow and replace it with relevant, useful language learning? [Heavens above! Even old-fashioned grammar-translation would be better than the “LOTE” folly!].

How is he going to repair a couple of decades of Asian language courses being seen by students – ones with a critical eye on their job prospects – as being nothing but a waste of time?

Australian business is now paying a heavy price for turning a blind eye to discrimination against Australian-born job applicants with Asian language skills. What is Labor going to do about it?

How does he think he will attract Australian ex-pats with Asian language skills back to Australia? With a brand-new AWAs and the earnest promises of a millions each? Come off the grass.

How will he suddenly fill the classrooms with those who can actually teach these languages to native-born and refugee Australians? We have seen enough of charletans-in-the-classroom: “Japanese” teachers who cannot read Kanji, toneless “Chinese” teachers who are distressed when they bump into Fanti characters words, “Indonesian” teachers who are mystified by words with mem-, ber-, per-, prefixes. We have also seen enough of native-speaker “teachers” who are simply incapable of teaching, despite their glorious qualifications.

If we believe that Labor will actually promote useful and appropriate Asian language learning ….. does that mean that we will have to believe in the Easter Bunny and flying saucers too? L-O-L :-)

16 years ago

“The connection between proficency in a major Asian language and productivity is not tenuous at all – if you cant understand what the boss tells you then you wont be very productive. ”

We’ll see. I went through uni during the last pro languages phase. Got fluent in Indonesian (then! Now all but lost through sheer lack of opportunity). Didn’t greatly help. Businesses weren’t that fussed. Law firms in Darwin, where I started out and where you might think it’d be useful, were pretty indifferent, and the one of my peers who ended up in Jakarta courtesy of a top tier firm had no relevant language skills at all.

I later found out that one firm where I pushed the idea particularly hard has a head partner (who interviewed me) who is in the habit of referring to non-anglo types as f*cking asylum seekers.

Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re relevant, just maybe there is a gap between students being optimistically skilled up and business giving a shoit.

And whether it’s right or wrong a bastardised americanised version of English is already the lingua franca throughout Asian business and political circles and this is likely to increase.

All that said I support the initiative, and the trade school expansion, I just think they are piddling measures in an area where Labor should be making a stronghold.

Currently, and reflecting on Beasley’s daft reaction to Howard’s history and ‘fundamentals’ push, the Libs are the more pro intellectual party. At least at face. And that is disappointing to say the least.

16 years ago

“Why, for example, should we develop technical training by outfitting schools, rather than expanding TAFE?”

“The link is that its tied to raising school retention (which has gone backward under Howard). The kids leaving school, as Rudd said in the speech, are the ones who would benefit most from tech training.”

Mark, this policy of Rudds ‘putting a trade school in every high school’ is pure farce, if not blatant hypocrisy. It was leftist educators in my state that closed down all the Tech schools because they believed every kid deserved a comprehensive education. Many of us had a feeling it was also to do with costs, because you don’t just chuck up a building and fill it with some cheap Chinese machinery and there you go kids. You need the trained staff, the ongoing maintenace and the feedstocks for kids to consume. Ask any employer about the costs of these things.

About 20 years ago SA Ed Dept closed the last of the Techs at Goodwood and I had work experience lads from there. They were superb employees(I apprenticed one) because they had strong discipline with such things as time clock punching and lose marks for lateness and the like. I spoke to the teachers there in the last year and they were absolutely gutted at what the leftist femocrats were up to. Every lad there in Yr11 and 12 had a job(apprenticeship mainly) to go to upon closing, at a time of high youth unemployment. Now the left side of politics are half heartedly admitting their calamitous policy by chucking up a few workshops in comprehensive high schools. What an absolute disgrace they are to working class kids everywhere. Smart state Ed Depts will put in for the $1.5 mill grants for new buildings with some cheap Chinese equip, to get the buildings mainly. What can the Feds do if a year or two down the track they shuffle off the workbenches, equipment, etc to get their hands on the new building, knowing full well they didn’t have the techies to man them properly. We should all smell a rat with this sop to the leftist education lobby.

16 years ago

I might be too cynical and perhaps Rudd does mean well here, but he’ll get screwed over by the Mem Fox types that still run state Ed depts nowadays, if he hasn’t already with this.

Joshua Gans
16 years ago


Thanks for the long response. I haven’t made any study of Reply speeches, so I’m not an expert on the genre. Climate change is now a policy priority, and overhauling our energy generation and usage to the desired extent involves very significant fiscal measures. These plans do need to be spelt out in a budget speech. Perhaps it’s just too early to quantify them.

The same arguement doesn’t apply to IR, and you’re right about Rudd not wanting to be drowned out by another hysterical debate about it. I just wish he’d said something that would have forestalled Chris Richardson’s infuriating suggestion that the IR reforms are some kind of inulgence that undermine otherwise sound economics.

I have no strong views about high schools versus TAFE. But it’s not obvious why retention in high school specifically should be an end in itself.


I don’t follow. There are obviously plenty of workplaces in Australia where an Asian language is spoken, but that’s because the people who work happen to be speakeres of that language. Are there really many cases in which a suitiably skilled person is excluded from a high productivity job here in Australia because the ‘bosses’ in all of the relevant firms can’t speak English?

I’m sure it’s good for business people trying to make deals in Asia if they can speak the potential client’s or partner’s language. Perhaps there would be more consulting opportunities too, for technicians, engineers and so on. But I wouldn’t know how to quantify this in terms of productivity or even as a gross contribution to GDP. An interesting research question.

Another point is that, for someone with the ability and determination to learn languages, high school study is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition. I speak two languages other than English pretty well, and they are not the two I learned in high school. If someone is proficient on a musical instrument, it’s rarely because they took it as a subject at school.

16 years ago

The politics of the reply are still to be fully reckoned, but looked wise to me. The Ruddster built around the theme of long-term challenges, which is always implicitly juxtaposed with Howard’s last lap, and used the national television coverage to reinforce his credentials on economic policy, climate change (I don’t see why this shouldn’t be linked to water, as this gives it ready popular traction?) and the fair go. Implictly, he went for trades, childhood education and small business in response to Howard’s bid for universities, which is a smaller constituency and one that the LNP is unlikely to ever make substantial inroads into, no matter how much money it promises to spend (Howard has become Beazley in this script, opening up his flank for Rudd to raid the ‘battlers’ and ‘punters’).

Effectively, Rudd bypassed the Budget, tagging it as a short-term political document. For working families “taxcuts are always welcome, together with childcare relief” – and that was that, and on we move. In other words, Rudd ignored the agenda the government is trying to set and ducked the fight it seems to have been counting on. Instead, he continued to tell his own story. In the reply to the reply, Howard appears frustrated, and is lashing out at Ruddy’s “fiscal conservative” claim and attacking him for not attacking the budget! Sure Jack. Knock yourself out pal.

We will have to wait to see how all this plays out of course, but I suspect the political instinct is sound. Riding high in the polls and with good momentum, steady as she goes and let the government take the big risks looks the right tack. While Morgan should always be taken with a grain of salt, the latest poll, taken on the weekend after the national conference and the assault on industrial relations by big business, has the ALP’s 2pp on 60 per cent and the LNP on 40. On this basis, and allowing for Morgan’s tendency to uptick the ALP, the govenment is still going to be at least a comfortable 10 points behind in Newspoll and Nielsen come next week.

Hi hi, hi ho, off to the election we go, hi ho, hi ho …

16 years ago

If the wheels of time have moved on for Howard, that’s that. It’s tantalisingly close to where the picture will grow clearer – the ships are lining up over the horizon. Still too early to tell who’s boat will come in first.

Rudd’s certainly doing everything he can to blend into Howard in the public mind on the Howard strengths, trying to minimise them. Howard himself is gearing up well to utilise his understanding of electoral apathy and make the consumable wins. I reckon he’s starting to look formidable – given a few imaginary developments actually occurring, such as hinted at by the remaining war chest.

Rudd may well be winning some hearts and minds out there but he’s become a muter button for me, which is probably a good thing. Let’s see how it’s rubbing when the game’s on.

This far out to my eyes, there’s a darkish horse yet to run, which appears a vote changer. I reckon Costello’s has lost it lately. He’s over the top with smugness. If a vote for Howard firms as a vote for Costello, Costello might smarten up and draw himself in, or he could behave worse. One rotten slip from him coming towards the line and his attitude threatens to paint himself and Howard as no-go’s, bringing Rudd’s fresh boringness into better attraction.

And Costello seems to be wanting to hold claim for the fortunes of the LNP for this election, much moreso than previously.

So it’s mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs at the moment, with a mad chef ramping up the sauce as the stand out.


[…] James Farrell , at Troppo, sets the ball rolling with respect to the Rudd reply to the budget, which opens the conversation with respect to content and the positioning among key voter groups. Personally, I find it hard to go past workplace fairness and climate change, although the low level of productivity is interesting. […]

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
16 years ago

James, TAFEs and schools are very different institutions. TAFEs are concerned with teaching specific skills, whereas schools are concerned with the comprehensive personal and social development of the kids.

Back in the early 80s, from memory, or thereabouts, Queensland made a strong move into practical education within the schools. At that time kids who were not academically inclined faced unemployment if they left school or stayed on in entirely unsuitable academic courses. A great deal of work has been done since then in articulating the school offerings with TAFE.

Some considerations.

Schools have a much greater coverage of the state than TAFE colleges, which are found only in the larger provincial centres.

Schools have a broad range of curricula, co-curricular and extra-curricular offerings relating to the personal development of young people. So they offer much more than specific skills training.

On the curriculum side, core skills relating to language/communication etc are still being taught to kids who take the non-academic stream. This doesn’t happen in TAFE.

Schools can respond directly to the needs of their own communities by offering school-based subjects, which dont need to be articulated right through the system.

A problem schools have is that TAFE standards of equipment and facilities are normally at what they call industry standard, which schools cant necessarily match.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
16 years ago

James Farrell [on 6]:
You said

Are there really many cases in which a suitiably skilled person is excluded from a high productivity job here in Australia because the bosses in all of the relevant firms cant speak English?

Interesting paraphase …. but what I actually said was

if you cant understand what the boss tells you then you wont be very productive.

Whether the boss can or cannot speak English is irrelevant ….but what language the boss chooses to use in the workplace may well determine whether you remain employed or not.

There are actually two separate issues in my quote of what you said:
[a] Discrimination against suitably qualified native-born Australians has been condoned since the early ‘nineties – and possibly earlier. [Yes, there have been many cases of discrimination. Anti-Discrimination laws are useless if they are not enforced].

[b] More and more firms in Australia are either foreign owned and operated or have workplaces where English is not regularly used. Either way, your employment opportunities are reduced if your only language is English. Armagnac [on post 3] mentioned English as a lingua franca throughout business and political circles in Asia – indeed it is at present but within a decade or so it will be overtaken by Hanyu/Mandarin Chinese [just as English overtook French after the Second World War].

Like you, I acquired and learned a few other languages [both European and Asian] outside of formal settings. However, I have also learned a major Asian language in formal courses and similar structured settings. A properly organized and conducted course with relevant material and with talented instructors gets students up to an employable level of proficiency in a lot less time than through informal means. Most students could reach such an employable level of proficiency by the end of high school if appropriate, practical, stimulating courses were used …. but such a level is almost impossible to attain using the current time-wasting “LOTE” system.

Sorry but I just can’t see a Rudd Labor government cracking down on Aussie-bashing in employment no matter what flowery apeeches thay make about fairness for all [at least, not until there have been a few more Cronulla-style riots]. Nor can I see a Rudd Labor government tearing teachers away from their dear old LOTE system and dragging them into the 21st Century.

16 years ago

I see in today’s paper Rudd and Co are already qualifying the grants so that its only one classroom per school and the critics of this cheapskate, ‘jack of all trades master of none’ approach are coming out of the woodwork. This was clearly a bit of ill thought out, one upmanship, populist policy on the run.

James Farrell
James Farrell
16 years ago

Thanks, Brian.

Two questions, Graham:

Do you have any facts and figures on workplaces where English is not used?

What was the language course you mentioned, and what was its duration?

16 years ago

# 12

This was made clear on thursday night after the reply. You obviuosly have access to the web so why wait for the saturday papers to keep you up to speed.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
16 years ago

James Farrell [on13]

Hectic weekend – dig tired – shall answer tomorrow,
Good night – Selamat tidur – Wan an – Buona notte – Dobranoc etc, etc

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
16 years ago

James Farrell [on post 13 ]:

It is interesting that you asked about a specific course [actually
there was more than one] rather than about my language acquisition and

Chinese interested me when I was a child – through social contacts – so that by the time I went into the Australian Army, I could utter and understand a few useful expressioins, write a few dozen Fanti and Jianti characters in their correct stroke-order and, what was far more important, eat with chopsticks.

This was all helpful when I studied Vietnamese [including Sino-Vietnamese technical terms] which was a skill that kept me alive in the Viet-Nam War [hence my many comments about US troops getting themselves killed in Iraq because of their lack of Arabic language skills].

My first formal Chinese course was at the RAAF School of Languages,
Point Cook. It was a year-long, exclusive and VERY intensive modern
language course. Survivors had reached at least an Honours level and
often a Masters-by-coursework level of proficiency on graduation.
Graduates included Australia’s first Ambassador to PRC and our first
Consul in Shanghai. Despite the high level of proficiency required,
such a qualification was not recognized in either Australian academia
nor in the Australian job market …. but that’s par-for-the-course in
“The Clever Country”.

Thanks to the laxity of some with no military experience, it has been
public knowledge for ages that I became an intelligence analyst and as
such had the benefit of further language training and experience.

I also had the good fortune to scrape through the Civil Service
Linguist and Interpreter courses and exams whilst I was out of

None of that did me a scrap of good in all the years since then [the
only job I could find when I first got out of the Army was as a
pick-and-shovel labourer – just like being Sent Down to the
Countryside during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution].

After a couple of years of trying to get an appropriate job, I went
back to kindergarten so as to “legitimize”[wtf?] my earlier
qualifications and experience by getting a Bachelor of Arts [Modern
Asian Studies] degree at Griffith University. That certainly didn’t
help me get an appropriate job either. Nor did any courses after that

It’s not as though I haven’t had job offers [some flatteringly
generous too] but they have all come from Australia’s trading
competitors or from potential enemies. NONE from Australia, where I
have wasted forests of paper on CVs and job applications. I may sound
overly fussy in this age of globalization but I really couldn’t see
any sense in risking my life fighting for Australia and then turning
around and selling out my fellow Australians.

The problems are these:
[1] Australian businesses are molly-coddled so that they don’t have to
face up to the harsh realities of doing business in Asia. Oh yes,
they operate – and get screwed – there but, in general, they remain
wilfully ignorant of the people, their history, their languages, their
customs and their preferences; in the main, they do not want to be
bothered with Australian-born staff who have the skills to work in

This is a self-correcting serious defect ….. as the “Gepids of Asia” will
find out sooner or later.

[2] Restricting employment to only those who have linear
qualifications from monopoly suppliers of such qualifications carries
with it a cost ….. and that cost is far, far higher than that of
giving every senior academic in every Australian university a couple
of million dollars each and putting them out to pasture.

If Australia is to survive in a rough-and-tumble world then it must
utilize all of its talents, not just those connected to pretty bits of thin

[3] HREOC and the various anti-discrimination mobs have been
miserable failures when it comes to protecting native-born Aussies
against discrimination and exploitation. We don’t need bureaucratic
ornaments so let’s give them the heave-ho and redirect their funding
to some useful purpose.

You did ask about facts and figure ….. just give me the funding, the
staff, the material resources and you’ll get all the facts and figures
you could want. Dismissing personal experiences and observations as
merely “anecdotal” is an old trick used by Australia’s failed,
moribund elite. Naturally, that doesn’t apply here, does it?
:-) L-O-L

James Farrell
James Farrell
16 years ago

Thanks for all those thoughts, Graham.

I am in favour of teaching languages, but I’d be sorry if a big investment was based on false expectations about its likely economic impact.

I’m still sceptical about high school being the most effective place to teach languages, unless it incorporates an exchange program that ensures the students are immersed in the language for a spell. Your RAAF course would have been effective because the pupils were highly motivated.

It’s a shame about those facts and figures. Yes, I’m afraid I do discount anectodatal evidence, but I think it would be a very interesting research project.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
16 years ago

James Farrell:
Australia is already suffering the economic impact of having so many of its businesses fleeced and slaughtered because so little has been invested in gaining appropriate language skills. Why do some Australian businessmen go to East Asia with empty minds and return with empty wallets; why do they wander hither and yon wearing flashing signs that say “Rob Me, Please”?

There is no need for business to squander time, effort and resources on a comprehensive language course when what is usually needed is a short, cheap LSP [language for specific purposes] course appropriate to a firm’s actual needs. If the course is relevant and well-presented then motivation is not a problem.

Children under 9 or 10 can be encouraged to be curious and to play around with other languageS and so develop familiarity and confidence in their learning and use. However, it is in late Primary and throughout Secondary schooling that the formal study of a specific language is most effective. That it is not effective at present in Australia says a lot about the failures of the “LOTE” cult; it certainly does not mean that high schools themselves are not good places to learn a second language. Students entering a first year undergraduate program should be capable of reading [with the aid of a dictionary] primary sources or technical papers in the second language; waiting until a student has entered university before starting study of a second language is very inefficient.

Immersion, if it is done well, can be very helpful [been there, done that] but if it is not done very carefully then it can be counter-productive. Exchange programs have their place but they are not essential for successful immersion learning; an immersion program can be carried out in a small school way out in ther bush – just think about it for a little while.

I don’t discount the “anectdotal” because I have always understood the clear difference between a specimen and a sample …. sometimes a specimen is far more valuable than a sample [e.g. the Welcome Stranger].

Interesting research indeed and I would be happy to carry it out at $85/hour [AUD eighty-five] plus all expenses, insurance, local vehicle, 4-star accommodation plus meals and laundry, secretarial support, 2 [two] research assistants and, of course, fly-in-fly-out [10-on-4-off/fortnight].