One underreported aspect of federal politics since Kevin Rudd regained the throne is how much the two sides have moved their policy platform away from extremes and towards the centre. This has not been accomplished just by copying each other's policies, as Rudd did again today with his Northern Territory economic zone announcement.
Labor's Dubai Lite policy now has significant similarities with the Liberals' special economic zone policy to turn everything north of the Tropic of Capricorn into a Middle Eastern hellhole of low wages and FIFO ghost towns, but with key differences to wedge Abbott on his Coalition's internal divisions on foreign investment, as the Guardian goes on to discuss. Since the relevant Ord River project is controlled by a Chinese firm, this is just another aspect of the same issue (hat tip: dd from the Cat).Rudd spoke of three pillars.Here they are:Create a Northern Special Economic Zone focussing on the Northern Territory to attract new Australian and foreign investment through simplifying investment rules, streamlining regulation and application processes for major projects, and introducing new tax incentives with the objective of reducing the company tax rate for Northern Territory based companies in five years.Expand the Ord Irrigation Scheme Stage 3 by providing $10 million to the Northern Territory Government to help facilitate expansion of the scheme from its current 29,000 hectares to 43,000 hectares. This will increase economic output in northern Australia by an estimated $150 million every year, mainly through expanded sugar production and agricultural crops.Develop twenty-year growth plans for the regional hubs of Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. Infrastructure Australia will oversee these plans, based on the successful Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Development Zone supply chain model, developed in collaboration with the private and public sectors. These plans will target key industry sectors and include strategies for increasing trade, investment and employment in these regional centres.
This gives Rudd a platform with which to talk about the policy but narrow the focus of discussion down to areas with which he is comfortable. This is also the case with the Libs' NBN Lite and Gonski Lite policies, in that they can keep bashing Labor on overspending on the last mile of broadband, and can maintain ideological purity despite pouring money into schools by borrowing from David Cameron's Big Society faff to empower local committees to have power over federal money.
A line can also be drawn with Rudd's announcement yesterday to follow Abbott's line in ruling out a parliamentary alliance with the Greens; the difference there is that Rudd retained the flexibility to direct preferences in individual seats, but overall he has given in to policy pressure from the other side. I didn't really understand Rudd's reasoning on that one, it seemed like he got bullied into a corner when it is still entirely possible that we will have another hung parliament. What would be the solution, keep having elections until one side wins? That favours Abbott, unquestionably. If Abbott wants to limit his options then good luck to him, but that was no reason for Rudd to do the same.
It is understandable to want to make yourself a small policy target. It seems that both Abbott and Rudd want the benefits of opposition - this is not a new insight, of course, but the extent to which they are both pilfering from each other's platforms has reached ridiculous levels. Rudd obviously wants this election to be as presidential as possible, so that he can engage in the same tactics as President Obama and achieve a similar victory over an out-of-touch tool of big business. Neutralising most of the differences in the respective economic policy platforms is one way to achieve this, leaving only personality politics and social issues.
The common thread running through both sides' attempts to move to the centre is that both require large amounts of money spent by government, with the differences restricted to bureaucratic style. So, arguably, this is not moving to the centre at all, or at least it is redefining the centre as the Red Centre. This is the dead hand of Julia Gillard, I think, her legacy writ large in daily headlines screaming that this or that side is going to spend taxpayer dollars to fund one or other of the policies she nursed through the processes, or go even further in Gillardesque fashion to announce boondoggles that can't be funded under present taxation arrangements.
Is there going to be a reckoning at some point during this campaign, where both sides are asked how they are going to fund this ratking of policies? Will any of the debates include a serious discussion of raising taxes, or will the prospect of scare campaigns prove too much of an obstacle to rationality? My money is on the craziness continuing.