Sat, Nov 24, 2007 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: PM Rudd? Business as usual

Most evidence points to the Liberal Party-National Party coalition being beaten in today's Australian federal election. A Labor government beckons, with opposition leader Kevin Rudd set to end more than a decade of conservative government.

In an ironic twist to the Liberals' election campaign, a number of party members, including the husbands of a legislator and a legislative candidate, were caught in Sydney distributing literature that demonized Muslims and spuriously tied the Labor party to Muslim terrorism, including the Bali bombings that killed many Australians.

The problem was not that this behavior was demeaning and dishonest, because the Liberal-National coalition has profited handsomely from race-baiting election tactics in the past. The problem, on this occasion, was inept execution.

Instead of inflaming racist sentiment and enhancing the prime minister's image of strength, as we have seen time and again, year after year -- recall the Tampa debacle; military deployment in Aboriginal settlements; the co-opting of the anti-immigrant, anti-Asian, anti-indigenous agenda of former legislator Pauline Hanson; the Pacific Solution incarcerating asylum seekers in corrupt Pacific Island nations; and lies about refugees throwing their children into the sea -- the incident in Sydney upstaged Howard and threatened to undermine his image as a man in control of his party.

That is, after more than 11 years, John Howard finally looked foolish and weak after training Australians to be comfortable with politics that throws all propriety out the window.

Australians are unhappy with the government over a range of issues out of material interest -- particularly labor laws, but also possibly global warming -- and not out of discontent at its moving toward corrupt and cynical governance, let alone the pigeon-holing of underprivileged minorities.

Rudd knows this, and that is why he will continue with, for example, punitive policies on immigration and Aboriginal affairs crafted by his predecessor.

Thus, the Labor party under Rudd that would take office is a much more cautious one than the Keating government that lost it in 1996.

Similarly, on the foreign affairs front, it is unlikely there would be any significant change to Taiwan-Australia ties, and that will rightly please businesses that make up this important regional trade relationship. However, Australia is increasingly reliant on China for trade, in particular the sale of uranium and other natural resources, and the potential repercussions of this trend ought not be lightly dismissed.

The size of the Australian trade relationship with China, together with Australia's contemptuous foreign minister, meant that Taiwan could never rely on the Howard government for a principled show of support when the occasion demanded it.

It is unlikely that a Rudd government would change this. It has no incentive to do so. And it has a growing number of incentives to do all it can to appease Beijing -- including keeping human rights criticism at the barest minimum. For this reason, we can expect that Michael Danby, Taiwan's only champion in Labor's parliamentary caucus, would be kept well away from any post that might offend China.

Rudd is no fool, nor partial to authoritarianism; he knows from hard experience how China's "communists" do business. But he is also a pragmatist and prepared to play the game to get a result.

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