Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Batt Man and Robbin'

Image from

Did the gargantuan
stimulus package speedily instigated by the Australian Government keep the recession wolf from the door as has been claimed? The jury is still sequestered on that one but the more open-and-shut case is the shambolic state of the AUS$2.5 billion environmental home improvements package overseen by rocker turned shocker, Peter Garrett.

Last week its beleagured home insulation programme was shut down following a two-week siege in which Garrett ran the gauntlet of simple questions aimed at clarifying whether or not he was aware of a report commissioned by his department warning that the programme was ripe for exploitation and could put lives at risk. After four deaths, nearly ninety housefires, hundreds of lost jobs and many millions of taxpayer dollars have been skimmed by operators keen to capitalise on a non-existent inspection regime, Garrett is still standing, mic aloft, believing he can win over the crowd with the same old chorus.

The ex-frontman of dodgy issue du jour pub rock outfit Midnight Oil is holding a dangerous cachet of failed projects in an election year. Also abandoned on the same day was a Green Loans Scheme with more snags than a Rotary barbeque. A solar energy initiative was cancelled with a day's notice a few months earlier. All of these enterprises are trailing a stream of grumpy householders and business owners.

Garrett should have resigned or, at the very least, shown little remorse. Some empathy with the bereaved families and those whose houses have burned down wouldn't go amiss at this point either. But as the crisis enters its third week, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has not only given his support to his minister, but assumed the responsibility for the fiasco himself. Suicide.

The joint portfolio of Environment and Arts which Garrett holds is not a strategic fit but a construct to accommodate his personal interests. What Rudd should have done is moved his Environment responsibilities over to Senate counterpart Penny Wong, who has responsibility for climate change and water conservation and left him with Arts. He hasn't managed to fuck that up yet.

With an election looming in a few months, Kevin Rudd has exposed himself to huge risk. The Damoclean sword is the 160,000 or so houses that might be in danger of catching on fire. Wouldn't it be just dandy if one of them burned down with a family of young children inside. A smart government remembers its loyalty is to its citizens rather than its colleagues. A disgraced colleague can always be quietly rehabilitated when the election is won, (cf Mandelson, P. of UK plc).

Australia is in very real danger of waking up to find itself lumbered with an accidental joke Prime Minister and we all know how that ends. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has been allowed to acquire implausible credibility for someone who is visibly crackers. Australians are easily frightened with threats to their financial or territorial security and will readily find comfort in someone who appeals to their vulnerability with mercifully few syllables.

Big mistake Kevin. Huge...