THE WATCHER: Nov 05, AU Edition

Rudd and the ALP may be having a meltdown – even if glaciers aren’t
National security is too important to tolerate the fundamental misrepresentation of the truth’, shadow foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd solemnly intoned in the Australian a few weeks back. Actually, I always thought it was important not to be too parochial about the truth when your country’s vital national interests are on the line, hence the old aphorism that ‘a diplomat is an honest man sent to abroad to lie for the good of his country’.
Though Rudd is no longer a diplomat, he still gives the profession a bad name. The former China envoy customarily struggles to come to the point, thrashing about in endless pedantry, from arcanum to minutia, from caveat to irresolute, usually petering out somewhere in an elliptical orbit somewhere between meaningless and dull.
Nevertheless, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have some sympathy for Rudd when his former dummy-spitting boss (now dummy-spitting suburban hausfrau) Mark Latham rolled him on Richard Glover’s radio show when he blurted out infamously that he’d have had Australian troops out of Iraq by last Christmas. We have since learned from the so-called Diaries that Latham also thought it would be excellent to ditch Australia’s national security keystone – the US alliance.
When confronted with Latham’s cut-and-run Iraq ‘policy’, Rudd suddenly had some fundamental truths to face. After all, Latham’s ABC radio outburst was not as impulsive as it first may have appeared. Latham had already publicly shown plenty of form on the matter. Moreover, Rudd confessed that he previously had a ‘pretty basic and at times brutal conversation’ about the US alliance with Latham (to little effect; apparently he was not ‘brutal’ enough).

Although Labor opposed Iraq’s liberation – after months of opinion poll-driven shilly-shallying – Rudd consistently pestered the Howard Government over its responsibilities as an occupying power in post-Saddam Iraq. Rudd whipped out the ol’ Fourth Geneva Convention (the one just after the Third and before the Fifth Geneva Conventions) in a Monash University speech:
‘Australia today is conjointly responsible for ensuring the security, health, food, shelter and clothing for 20 million Iraqis. That’s what occupying powers do. Put simply, if you invade a country, you get to run it afterwards until an Iraqi government takes over. And that is a long way off…’
Just in case Prime Minister John Howard wasn’t in the audience, Rudd popped a memo into the PM’s suggestion box in mid-November 2003, urging increased Australian troop strength in Iraq: ‘I understand DOD currently has staff in country assisting with the development of the army. It would be useful’, Rudd helpfully recommended, ‘for the Government to investigate whether this training capacity could be increased’.
Latham was in charge of the show weeks later. Three months later in March 2004, in true populist ‘Goughic’ fashion, without so much as a nod to the trivial – parliamentary convention and shadow cabinet responsibility – Latham yanked the pin out on Australia’s Iraq commitment and with it the rug from under Rudd’s feet. Faced with Latham’s rash move, Rudd had two choices: do the Right Honourable thing and resign on principle or ‘jump in de conga line’.
We didn’t have to wait long for the answer – cue Harry Belafonte.
Rudd’s initial tactic: feign senile dementia, as evidenced by this Lateline interview with Tony Jones:
JONES: So you knew several weeks ago that Mark Latham planned to come out and say ‘troops home by Christmas’, did you?
RUDD: I can’t pinpoint any particular time as far as that’s concerned, all I know is Mark and I had been discussing it for some time.
JONES: The very line we’re talking about ‘troops home by Christmas’ you knew about that?
RUDD: We’d been discussing it for some time.
JONES: Did you know about it when we last spoke to you?
RUDD: I can’t quite recall the chronology.
Rudd and Latham also argued, breathtakingly, that Latham’s
security policy incontinence accorded with Labor’s pre-war no-war position: because Labor decided to side with the French and Chinese at the UN and leave Saddam running his Mesopotamian shop of horrors, Latham’s troops out by Christmas statement had been, well, pre-endorsed, shall we say, by shadow cabinet. That was hooey.
Notwithstanding Rudd’s notably acute memory lapses (all the more remarkable given his amazing ability to remember the Fourth Geneva Convention), it was devastatingly evident that Latham had been caught in flagrante delicto, so to speak, of violating the principle of shadow cabinet solidarity on a matter of vital national interest, i.e., the war on terror and alliance relations with the US. But Rudd, for reasons he has yet to explain, kept up the pretence of unity. And when caught out on one principle, he repeatedly fell back on
another: the confidentiality of shadow cabinet deliberations.
Recently Rudd was given a friendly chance to come clean. Asked by Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7:30 Report if he’d been ‘caught on the hop’ by Latham’s Christmas pullout announcement last year, dissembling, Rudd activated the principle shield again:
RUDD: You know as well as I do, Kerry, when you’re dealing with complex questions of national security and you have a shadow cabinet that is functioning, a range of views are going to be put. There’s an outcome and the leader had a view.
O’BRIEN: And I think you were caught on the hop.
RUDD: I am not about to breach that principle [of confidentiality].
But still, no admission – at least not one according to the ABC transcript. But oddly, Rudd’s complete remarks are missing. What Rudd actually said, grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat, in reply to O’Brien, who was having trouble containing his own amusement, was: ‘And you can draw your own conclusion. I am not about to breach that principle’. Who says the ABC can’t do good comedy?
That’s about as close to an admission by Rudd as you are going to get. But it’ll do. As to why Rudd’s words were dropped from the transcript, well, keeping in mind that the ABC has in the past demonstrated a tendency to be creative with such things, you can draw your own conclusions. Indeed, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to why Rudd has been let off so lightly by the media on such an important matter.
It contrasts rather remarkably with the bollocking given to health minister Tony Abbott earlier in the year when cabinet revised its Medicare safety net calculation, despite Abbott’s pre-election ‘ironclad commitment’. Rudd’s kid-glove treatment also contrasts sharply to much of the media’s shrill ‘we wuz lied to’ over children overboard, Bali terror warnings and supposedly ‘sexed-up’ Iraq intelligence briefings.
And why has not a single journalist, to my knowledge, asked Rudd why he didn’t consider resigning? Why wasn’t Rudd asked why, for example, he hadn’t followed Daryl Melham’s example when shadow cabinet rolled him over aboriginal land claims in 2000? As Melham said then: ‘I did so because as a matter of principle for me, I was unable to support the Shadow Cabinet decision on Queensland native title.’ Carmen Lawrence and Lindsay Tanner, for different reasons, did likewise. But not Rudd. Why not?
Westminster parliamentary tradition holds that should a minister or shadow minister find himself unable in good conscience to abide by the policies adopted by their cabinet, they should find themselves a backbench to warm. It is an obligation that does not arise simply from a sense of honour, though that reason is not to be dismissed. It serves a very important check on cabinet government.
But that check on executive power is only effective so long as each member of cabinet, particularly those holding the key offices of state, has the strength of character to resign when the chips are down. It’s a test of leadership that British Labour politician Hugh Dalton speculated of future Prime Minister James Callaghan: ‘Has he got a resignation in him?’ Callaghan did (in 1967 over the devaluation of the Pound), but it could not be more apparent that Rudd doesn’t have a resignation in him.If Rudd had resigned, he would have alerted the Australian public to the terrible risk Latham posed. But instead, Rudd and his Labor colleagues tried to cover up the dangerous mess that Labor’s shadow cabinet had become under Latham. Fortunately the Australian electorate saw through it.
And now for the weather…
This just in: ‘There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production–with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now…if climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic.
‘“A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale”, warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences…’
Worried? Don’t care? Heard it all before? Actually, you may have – in 1975. The article, appearing in the April 28th edition of Newsweek, went on to warn that unless something was done, we were doomed.
But that was then. This is now, baby. And the media has been in, well, a meltdown when it was reported recently that Nanook’s land values would decline (actually, according to sound economic principles, they would increase because there would be less of it) and the Panama Canal would lose its monopoly cache. Why the hullabaloo? The Arctic ice was reported to be melting. Must be due to the gaseous, hurricane-making ways of President George W. Bush, all agreed.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) sent out the alarm with a media release titled: ‘The Summer Arctic sea ice falls far below average for fourth year, winter ice sees sharp decline, spring melt starts earlier.’ Far below average, eh? Over how many years? How long have they been measuring sea ice accurately?
Well, not for very long as it turns out. These days – and I do mean days – they’ve been doing it with satellites. And as even the New York Times noted, ‘before 1979, scientists estimated the size of the ice cap based on reports from ships and airplanes’.
The key word is estimated. The Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years; the polar ice caps, about 50 million. On that timeline, Kitty Hawk happened in the geologic equivalent of less time than the half-life of gnat flatulence. As for ships keeping an adequate record of arctic ice movements, I can only imagine that the RMS Titanic’s Captain EJ Smith and others wished it had been more science than art or chance.