One of Malcolm Turnbull’s most principled decisions was his opposition to the Australian Business Investment Partnership Bill 2009 (aka Ruddbank). Arguably this was Malcolm’s finest moment – at a stroke he saved more taxpayers’ money ($25 billion or so) than at any other point in his life. His second reading speech was a clear clarion call warning of the risks of such an organisation (which Rudd had selected Ahmed Fahour to be the chief executive). The Bills Digest provides a good summary of that Bill.
Starting with the Property Council, and including rent-seekers such as Frank Lowy, intense lobbying took place to attack Turnbull and the Coalition’s stand against Ruddbank. The sky was going to fall in, we were told, if the Coalition did not support the creation of Ruddbank.
Wayne Swan said in his second reading speech:
The Australian Business Investment Partnership Bill 2009 and the Australian Business Investment Partnership (Consequential Amendment) Bill 2009 are very much a necessary part of the government’s response to the current unprecedented global economic conditions. …
I want to say this again; I want to underline it and I want to stress this: the Rudd government is not willing to stand idly by and do nothing while commercial property prices tumble and jobs are wiped out by events in global financial markets. That is what is driving the government with this measure. The opposition say that no commercial property project or jobs are at risk. I do not know how much more out of touch the opposition could be to make that statement in this parliament. In this environment, there is no guarantee that foreign banks will maintain their commitment to the Australian commercial property sector. Indeed, there has been press in recent days of foreign banks withdrawing—precisely the circumstances that the government wants to address. …
The Australian people expect more from the opposition and it is not too late for them to see sense. If they do not support this legislation and projects fail and jobs are lost, it will be entirely on their heads. If they do not support this bill and if, in the weeks ahead, jobs are lost as a result of their opposition, that will be entirely on their heads. ABIP is an important part of the government’s response to cushioning Australia from the effects of the global economic crisis. The government is acting responsibly in supporting Australia’s commercial property sector. We are doing it because it is important and because it is a measure that is required by the circumstances of the day. We are acting prudently, with a range of safeguards in place, to help protect the interests of Australian taxpayers.
I was reminded of Ruddbank in the discussion about Doug Cameron. One of the references included Cameron’s attack on Henry Ergas who had dared oppose Ruddbank. The rhetoric at the time was over-the-top.
History delivered its verdict. The Australian Business Investment Bill 2009 was defeated in the Senate on 16 June 2009 and the Government never tried to reintroduce it. The Australian property sector did not collapse. The Government has never admitted it was wrong. (Which reminds me that the Government also did not proceed with its commitment to “enhance” the independence of the Reserve Bank).
We dodged a bullet at that time; if Ruddbank had been created it would have been sucking wealth from the Australian economy into a cesspit of rent seeking.
Unfortunately the Government uses a machine gun for its bad policies. We might have dodged the Ruddbank bullet, and even the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bullet, but plenty of other bullets (such as the Carbon Tax bullet and pink bat bullet) have struck their target and weaken the Australian economy and body politic.
Senator Cameron owes Malcolm Turnbull and Henry Ergas an apology. I suspect Cameron will go to his grave without issuing that apology.
Here is what a funny Scot says should apply to Doug Cameron