The headlines of the Melbourne Herald-Sun on December 21st proclaimed “Julia Clean Bowled – Third Broken Promise as $1 billion surplus axed.” Other headlines further into the paper announced: “Swan comes clean on deficit” and “Budget blows credibility of Gillard, Swan.”
Swan and Gillard have done the right thing – and the responsible thing - in abandoning the surplus for the time being. While it may have seemed politically prudential at one point, to follow through now would undermine the economy, and also Labor’s credentials. Now Labor needs to turn the economic debate around – so it is possible to conduct that debate on its own terms. Yet even if Labor does all this, victory in 2013 is not assured. Best, then, to lock a big reform agenda in: reforms in tax, social services, infrastructure and welfare that will put the Conservatives on the defensive; reforms they will not dare to wind back.
The bottom line is that an end be put to Labor’s decades-long retreat: that by appealing to and providing for both the disadvantaged and vulnerable – and to the ‘mainstream’ of working Australia – we can consolidate an electoral bloc, and begin anew ‘the steady march forward of Labor’.