Skip to comments.Australia's political upheaval - A lucky country to run
Posted on 12/03/2007 9:08:39 PM PST by bruinbirdman
Kevin Rudd owes John Howard a lot; he may also prove to be a success
AS ANY sports fan knows, Australia loves a winner. So to the outsider it is a shock that its voters on November 24th so decisively turfed out the government led for more than 11 years by John Howard (see article). Much the most successful prime minister of modern times, he had led Australia into what will be its 17th consecutive year of economic growthprobably of more than 4% this year. Moreover, the Labor opposition to him seemed, not that long ago, a shamblesdivided, old-fashioned and led by losers. The leader it elected a year ago, Kevin Rudd, a rather geeky former diplomat, looked an unlikely challenger to the wily, combative and ruthless Mr Howard.
In electoral terms, Mr Rudd has now shown himself a winner. To prove so in government, he needs to learn from Mr Howard's success, as well as Labor's recent failures. The early signs suggest he has grasped the most important lessons.
The first is to demonstrate independence from the party's factions and the trade unions. The most damaging charge laid against Labor by the government's campaign was that 70% of its cabinet would be trade-union officials. By declaring that he, rather than Labor members of parliament, will appoint his cabinet, Mr Rudd jettisoned a century-old tradition, and made clear that the top man and not murky powerbrokers will call the shots. Similarly, on economic policy, Mr Rudd has been at pains to present himself as the heir to the liberalisation launched by the Labor government of the 1980s and pursued by Mr Howard, rather than as an old-fashioned tax-and-spend trade unionist. He has called himself a fiscal conservative, and claimed his spending promiseslavishing resources on education, renewable energy and a national broadband networkwould cost less than Mr Howard's commitments. He managed to portray Mr Howard, whose party stands for small government and free markets, as a spendthrift, and a too-ideological one at that, offering a hefty tax rebate to anyonehowever well-offwho educates their children privately.
The big exception to Mr Rudd's pledge of economic continuity is a promised reform that won Labor many votes: the revision of Mr Howard's unpopular WorkChoices industrial-relations legislation. This shredded the last vestiges of trade-union power in the workplace, shifting workers on to individual employment contracts. But even here, Mr Rudd has been careful not to bind himself too tightly to the old orthodoxies. Reform will be slow, and many of the measures introduced by the government to limit union power will be retained. Voters were probably right not to buy Mr Howard's claim that the changes will cost 200,000-400,000 jobs.
The third lesson involves the relationship with America. The election confirms the Bush effect. Mr Howard's role as George Bush's deputy sheriff may have seemed a comfort a few years ago. In this campaign, however, it was a liability. Australians wanted to see clear blue water between their country and the American flagship. Mr Rudd's commitment to withdraw Australian combat troops (though not other army personnel) from Iraq starting next year was popular.
However, it would be worrying were Mr Rudd to distance himself too far from Americaespecially if it was part of a reluctance to offend China. The latter is now Australia's biggest trading partner, and, through its inexhaustible demand for commodities, the engine of Australia's prolonged boom. Balancing that relationship with the American alliance is the central task of Australian foreign policy.
Mr Rudd, who worked in China and speaks Mandarin, opposed a security pact that Australia signed with Japan in March. But he has also expressed support for the American- and NATO-led operations in Afghanistan. On winning the election, he was quick to stress the centrality of America to his foreign policy. Mr Bush was one of the first leaders to call him. This is an alliance not in trouble, but in electoral nuance: Gordon Brown will understand.
The changing political climate
Mr Rudd has also learned what many national leaders elsewhere will discover in the next few years: that climate change is now an election issue. A few years ago Mr Howard could get away with his robust refusal to sign up to the Kyoto protocol, to hobnob with Al Gore or do anything that might damage Australia's booming coal industry. No longer. This may have been one of the first national elections in which global warming was a political issue for big parties. It will not be the last.
Mr Howard was perhaps in office too long to sense that. Unlike Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher in Britain, he was not dumped by his party after a successful decade. It was left to the electorate. The climate-change debate points to a broader electoral truth: nations like to feel proud of themselves. Winning, in fact, is not enough, even in Australia: you have to do it right. That was the mood that Mr Rudd adroitly captured. When the Liberals were caught distributing fake propaganda depicting Labor as soft on Islamist terrorism, it confirmed an image of the party as abrasive: so sharp it would cut itself. Mr Rudd, by contrast, came across as Mr Howard with the rough edges sanded off. If so, Australia could do much worse.
Farewell Australia, back to income tax slavery you go.
Those that still have jobs that is. Plus, those that do will be pogo-ing to work in the dark; the enviro wienies will be shutting off the lights all night to save energy.
The ChiComs get their man. Will they get their woman?
Tha Manchurian Australian Candidate? Have they made that movie yet?
I don’t believe assurances that this is an “alliance in nuance,” or anything of the sort. The more time goes by, the more Australians are convinced China is a) no threat and b) the key to their economic prosperity. (Witness the Australian discourse over recent major trade agreements with the U.S. - derided as inconsequential and of lesser value than the agreement with China, the latter of which was spoken of in virtually only glowing terms.)
That’s a trend that points to real chance of Australia’s strategic reorientation over the next decade.
Certainly with socialistic liberals in power such a scenario becomes more realistic. I remain incredulous at how some people fail to see China for what it is. They are convinced that the future lies there. They say "an economy of a billion people, why as soon as they open their market (and there are sings they will soon!) we'll all get super rich!" Except China isnt opening it's market to anyone, just teasing as a bargaining chip. And in the meantime they flood the market with cheap crap made with slave labor and substandard and/or dangerous components. They are amoral, so the consequences of such actions are irrelevant to them unless it impacts their bottom line.
An amoral, greedy, xenophobic communist dictatorship is not a partner to trust.