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It is difficult to understand why the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, is experiencing such rough handling at the polls. He should be doing well.

By any yard stick the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has failed to distinguish himself as a leader, the difficulties posed by the recession/depression notwithstanding.

Despite the paucity of verifiable evidence the Prime Minister with the support of Treasury has been able to convince a majority of the people and the media that the fiscal stimulus packages or cash splashes have saved Australia from the worst of the economic downturn.

The claim is contestable but politically clever, at least in the short term. The fact that Access Economics, the Reserve and major banks believe the worst of the recession to be over is cause for caution given their poor track record in predicting the collapse.

Rudd and his advisers are not convinced that what we see are green shoots, they worry that it could be green slime, hence Rudd’s attempt to cover himself with a 6,000 word ‘essay’ defending his recent economic decisions and highlighting possible future difficulties which was run in the Fairfax press on the 25/26 July.

His message was at odds with the economic forecasters mentioned above.

First year economic students would be aware that Australia has slipped-streamed on the strength of the Chinese economy, underlining even before the Stern Hu incident, the extent of our dependence on Chinese growth and political stability.

In the absence of rigorous analysis advice from Rudd and Treasury should be to keep our fingers crossed. Having shed most of our manufacturing capacity we have few other strings to our bow. There are no policy proposals from either government or opposition to broaden the economic base and reduce our dependency on mineral sales, particularly to China.

Rudd’s policy on water, such as it is, has succumbed to the heat of vested interests and is evaporating. The government is using our money to buy licences for water which does not exist. Rudd does not seem to understand that the only way to manage the dwindling resource, which water represents, on behalf of all stakeholders is for an independent authority to be appointed under the auspices of the Federal Parliament.

Rudd has squirmed on climate change policy and has displayed the paternalism of a missionary toward the Aboriginal population.

The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and there is little justification for Australia being involved. Rudd has not had the courage to take the Australian people into his confidence, instead allowing the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Angus Houston, to hint that Australian troops would be withdrawn in four or five years time when training of the Afghan Army will be complete, a task the USSR attempted but which collapsed on the withdrawal of the Russian Army from Afghanistan.

Rudd’s response to the crisis in the delivery of health care has been to prevaricate and in so doing break an election promise. The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, has hinted that health reform might be contingent on increased taxes.

Had Rudd not spent so much on spin-dominated cash splashes he would have the money to pay for better health outcomes which would have been a more mature and prudent way of spending tax payer money and stimulating the economy. But wise social spending has not been part of this government’s agenda.

The spending on schools was masterful, designed to be visible and feel-good spending for swinging voters with children. Much of the money is ill-directed. The program requires more consultation. Occupational Health and Safety requirements relating to building in school grounds will preclude many smaller builders in rural areas from tendering, leaving the way open for big city contractors and thus defeating the purpose of part of the exercise.

Greater expenditure on community and affordable housing would see social needs addressed as well as government funding maintaining jobs amongst smaller contractors and communities.

Other infrastructure spending might be useful if a more integrated approach to projects was taken and if the government was able to articulate what it hoped to achieve in terms of national development. But vision is not part of spin.

Rudd has made no headway with important issues of foreign policy. He is chasing the illusion of a seat on the Security Council, at a time when relations with India and China have never been so bad. Rudd allowed himself to be bullied by China over the Stern Hu affair.

One can only guess at the sweet talking that went on behind the scenes in the negotiations over the Rio-Tinto/Chinalco deal. Rudd’s chief business adviser is Rod Eddington who is also a director of Rio-Tinto. Whatever transpired it appears to have had the effect of muting Rudd’s response.
Published: ABC Unleashed

No one with any knowledge of the intricacies of diplomacy would advocate megaphone diplomacy, whatever that means, however there is no substitute for firmness. Rudd blinked, in fact he shut his eyes, and went into denial for the best part of a week after the detention of Hu.

Rudd has ignored India. He did little to assuage the Indian Government, people and media over Haneef, preferring to see the bungle as that of his predecessor and therefore nothing to do with him; relations between countries does not work like that. Now due to the ineptitude of officials and policy he inherited from the last government he has a major foreign policy crises on his hands over the mistreatment of Indian students in Australia.

If Rudd and members of his government think they can beat the Indian media they are mistaken. Rudd says he will visit India with Education Minister Julia Gillard later in the year. He should be there next week. If not he should stop spending money on pursuing the ego trip of a seat on the Security Council.

Rudd, in my opinion, improperly deployed the services of the AFP to help him out over his difficulties with an alleged forged email in relation to the farcical ute affair. Whatever the AFP is doing could have been done through the Senate hearings process.

When do we get the results of this highly political investigation? His employees, members of the public service, do not particularly like the treatment handed out to Godwin Grech, the public servant fingered in the affair.

If Rudd wants to maintain waning loyalty he should not only be seen to be acting properly he should also reign in the AFP. The feeling is that in the name of the war on terror the AFP has a watching brief on every key government department, including Treasury.

Poor Malcolm Turnbull, fighting the Troglodytes in his own party and a majority in the media which appear willing to believe Rudd spin over substance.

Published: Australian Financial Review

The Indonesian police and army are unlucky, incompetent or involved in the Jakarta Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings.

Three days prior to the bombings Indonesian police claim they found bomb making material at a house in central Java owned by a person related to their prime nominated suspect, Noordin Top. They say that this material was identical to a third undetonated bomb subsequently found at the Marriott Hotel.

The Indonesian police have linked Top to the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in 2003 and the Australian Embassy in 2004. Top is the Scarlet Pimpernel of Indonesian, no one can find him; yet the police, despite knowing everything about him, including the location of his relatives, can’t nab him. For weeks he was able to sit unrecognised in this home making bombs, but it was only after he departed for Jakarta with some of his handiwork, that police raided the home. They told no one. No warnings were issued to locations where foreign nationals were likely to be located, following the discovery. Why not?

At best security at both hotels was slack. Why? How was it possible for Noordin Top and associates to sit in a room at the Marriott putting together plans and bombs?

We know that the Pakistan Intelligence Service, ISI, has close links to fundamental Islamic groups in Pakistan, they use them and we know why.

Acts of terrorism in Indonesia keep the military and police at the centre of politics and by their own definition crucial to law and order. Maintenance of a strong power base ensures continued dominance of networks that distribute the spoils of the state.

The Australian Foreign Minister says he cannot be certain that Australians were specific targets of the bombers, however because of the targets chosen, from Bali to the most recent attack, it has been inevitable that Australians would be amongst the victims and those responsible for the bombings would know that.

The bombings are no threat to the security of Indonesia, for that to happen, the bombers would need a broader base of popular appeal and they do not have that. What do the bombings aim to achieve? Who stands to gain?

In order to stop people smuggling the AFP has become close to the Indonesian police and military. Altogether too close for objective analysis to take place but close enough for antipathy to exist.

Published: ABC Unleashed

The recent attacks on Indian students have thrust the issue of racism in Australia into the mainstream news bulletins.

The Indian government has protested, the Indian media has expressed concern and Kevin Rudd has made one of his grave statements.

And the Australian media toyed with the notion that perhaps there are elements of racism in this country.

Of course Australia is racist. It is still viewed by mainstream Australia as wrong, so it is practised with some guilt and in polite company circumspection. Quiet soundings at social gatherings of what appear to be like-minded people, eventually leading to, once credentials seem to have been established , ‘I have nothing against them but…’

Polite and sometimes not so polite racism is the underbelly of conservative politics and conservative attitudes. Racism weaves its way through Australian sport with varying degrees of official tolerance, but in some codes it has equal billing with misogyny. It was there for all to see with the crude sledging engaged in during the last Australian cricket tour of India.

In not so polite society racism is blatant. Have you seen the ugly text messages relating to Aborigines, Muslims, Jews, Indians and refugees?

Australians from the dominant Anglo/Celtic culture expect new Australians from other cultural backgrounds to show some respect, perhaps even a small cringe and obsequiousness, forelock tugging, until such time as they know the ropes, cut their cultural ties and enter the mainstream.

Temporary settlers and long term visitors are expected to absorb mainstream culture more quickly and to show a suitable degree of deference. Some individuals and national groups are better at this than others. Maybe Indians have a problem with deference?

Of course racism is a fact of life in Australia. The treatment of Aborigines is the most glaring example and is there for the world to see.

Aborigines are not equal before the law in Australia; they die in the back of prison vans. Whitefellas speak, plan and make decisions on their behalf. Rehabilitation programs in prison are minimal and many prison guards display racial prejudice including toward visiting relatives. White decision makers are currently in the process of denying outstations to Aborigines.

Since the time of white settlement racism has been part of the weft and weave of this country.

The first identified threat by white settlers was from thieving, dispossessed Aborigines, who were placed in the same category as Australian fauna; and then Asians, who apparently constituted a threat to the wage structure and racial purity.

The Union Movement and The Bulletin magazine urged maintenance of a white Australia policy and it was not difficult to bring the Squatters and members of the professional middle class along with them. Keeping Australia free for the white man was one of the catch cries for recruitment to the First Australian Imperial Force.

The White Australia Policy officially died with the election of the Labor Whitlam government in 1972; but it didn’t.

Attitudes in the white macho middle class didn’t change. It was a badge of honour among the emotionally and intellectually beleaguered (and challenged) conservatives in the middle class to oppose anything the Whitlam government instituted.

Expecting big things from Malcolm Fraser when he was elected Prime Minister in 1976, they were disappointed, if not shocked with his attitude and policies toward Aborigines, refugees arriving by boat and opposition to Apartheid. He was a class and Party traitor.

Hawke and Keating maintained, and in some areas increased, policies of public decency toward Aborigines, minority groups and refugees. Under them both there was even a week-long celebration of the worth and value of refugees known as Refugee Week. It died under Howard.

John Howard brought his class and race warfare to government. He was a champion of the marginalised white middle class. His anger at the direction of policy over the preceding 24 years seethed and festered. WorkChoices and the detention and vilification of refugees were the resulting policies.

Howard’s treatment of refugees arriving by boat was state sponsored and sanctioned racism. It sent a powerful message, not to desperate refugees but to other Australians, some of whom saw it as encouragement to develop and express their own racism.

Mohammed Haneef was a victim. The unwillingness of the AFP to admit mistakes or apologise also sent a powerful message both overseas and to those within this country who put the AFP on a higher pedestal than they do tolerance and human rights.

The Rudd government has kept in place the fundamentals of the Howard government’s intolerant policies toward Aborigines and refugees. As an example to others it leaves much to be desired as does Rudd’s recent intemperate attack on people smugglers. Does Rudd believe that government policies reinforcing and backing racist actions and attitudes would not have a negative impact at street level?

The Rudd government has been gutless in reversing and attempting to heal the damage done by Howard. His government needs to implement a schools and university program promoting human rights and combating racism.