Friday, November 08, 2002

Former Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley is widely touted as the “nice guy” of the ALP, a party that could teach Huey Long a thing or two about hardball politics. No explanation is ever forthcoming about how a “nice guy” can climb high in what is widely acknowledged to by one of the toughest political parties in the world.

That aside, Beazley was a damn good Defence Minister, a reasonably good Finance Minister, and a bit of a dud as Opposition Leader. Her majesty’s Loyal Opposition has an important role in the Westminster System, and I don’t believe he really stayed with the game. He couldn’t even get over the line when Prime Minister John Howard fought and won an election on the policy of introducing new taxes.

But one thing you could count on with Beazley was intellectual honesty. If he knew something, or thought he knew something, he put that view forward. If he wasn’t across the issue, he let you know. In today’s Herald, that reputation has taken a battering.
The Howard Government's Indonesian policy has completely failed over the past six years. It has failed by acts of commission as well as omission and the performance in South-East Asia has not been much better. The root of much of this lies in partisan debate in Australian politics, as this Government sought to undermine perceptions of the vital character of engagement argued by its predecessors.

We bailed them out of their financial crisis, forced their proxies to stop slaughtering East Timorese, and now we have Australian Federal Police on the ground in Bali. All without taking a step back on Australian values. If this is “undermining”, then dig on, I say.

This has made it singularly incapable of either building on what had been an increasingly accepting attitude in the region to Australian diplomacy, to explain the necessity of actions such as that in East Timor, or exploiting what was a generous and understanding attitude which helped the region's economy during the 1998 meltdown.

Beazley is equating “a generous and understanding attitude” as a complete failure. And frankly, I would have thought our actions in East Timor were pretty much self-explanatory. At least they are to other Asian nations, like Thailand and Singapore.
East Timor became independent because Indonesia with considerable internal dissent permitted it. We did not invade. We helped ensure the transition after the United States at APEC stepped in to demand an end to the post-referendum intimidation of the East Timorese

Why not invade? Because part of the “vital character of engagement” maintained by Beazley’s gang was to recognise the occupation of East Timor as legitimate, making it part of Indonesia. Not that didn’t stop a hell of a lot of Labor supporters demanding we do just that.
The complexities of the interaction between domestic argument in Australian politics and our diplomatic stance in the region are many. They include the initial encouragement of Hansonism by Howard

At no stage did Howard ever “encourage” Hansonism. The worst he did was point out that Hanson had the right to say what she liked, particularly in the absolute privilege afforded by Parliament. If not condemning a position is now the effective equivalent of encouragement, where does that leave Beazley after 13 years of “vital engagement” between Labor and the Suharto dictatorship?

Beazley is also worried about communications:
talkback radio diplomacy with Megawati in the first three days of the Tampa crisis

How about the week-long delay that the silly woman took to send condolences to the people who lost almost 100 citizens on her watch? Why the hell should we care what she thinks?

Does the Australian Prime Minister have a duty to shore up the legitimacy of the Indonesian leader? Why
According to this view it was time they understood we didn't need them as much as they needed us, irrespective of the domestic difficulties a first visit placed on an Indonesian leader. Hence Australia secured a response only when President Wahid's authority had collapsed. It was a great favour Wahid did this country

In Beazley’s view, Howard committed a terrible insult by not going to Indonesia before Indonesia came here. Never mind that the place had four Presidents in as many years, one of whom may well have been a garden gnome.

I did like this attempt at revisionism:
the Tampa crisis was constructed by the Howard Government

In the subsequent election, Beazley proudly declared there was “not a cigarette paper’s difference” between his position on immigration, and the Government’s.
A good position has been negotiated on participation in the investigation into this atrocity, and earlier, largely with the help of Indonesia's Foreign Minister, a good agreement on terrorism and illegal people movement. Our leaders have to understand, however, the deeper rhythm of politics in our neighbour's society. This understanding can only come with deep engagement.

Why do I worry that “deep engagement” involves a rubber glove?

Remember the top of the page, when Beazley gave his opinion that policy was a failure?
Immediately after the horror of September 11, I released a 10-point plan on what we should do to confront the problem for Australia and the region. It was put forward in a bipartisan spirit. Gradually, the Government has ticked off each of them.

Ooops.
I have a modest suggestion for Howard. It is what I would have done were I prime minister. Every five or six weeks, for a few days after Thursday Question Time, visit a South-East Asian nation. Don't make it official. It is what their leaders do all the time.

Can you spell C-R-O-N-Y-I-S-M?
We appear to be in the same "field of jihad", therefore we have common security problems. Start addressing their audience with half the enthusiasm you address the Australian audience.

So that explains why the Indonesian are threatening to withdraw co-operation rights for Australian Federal Police, if we keep up with the unacceptable practice of raiding and questioning people residing in Australia on their possible involvement in terrorist cells. Somehow, this doesn’t see, to matter when the raids are carried out by Indonesians.

We see the Prime Minister of India in dialogue with the heads of government of ASEAN and Australia's application for the same discussion put on hold.

Gee, I wonder if that is because one of them is a racist bastard?

Why the speech, delivered on October 31? Beazley led the Party to two successive election defeats, quitting after the last debacle that saw the Conservatives increase their vote. Today he is on the back bench, watching his party being led to certain decimation at the election. Past policies can’t be completely dumped without looking like complete dills. The Greens have gazumped the Hard Left, the Liberals have the votes of anyone with a mortgage, and are making inroads into the previously-unassailable ethnic vote. The Party is afraid to move to the Left or Right, and is threatened by fissures between the many mutually-oppositional pressure groups they had appeased for many years of Government. Recent polls have Labor voters preferring Beazley to the present incumbent two to one. Beazley has just indicated that he will be running again, as a backbencher, after previously hinting that he was just serving out his time. Given the certainty of a Labor defeat, and the equal certainty of a leadership spill afterwards, is this Beazley’s first shot in his comeback?

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