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Archives for June 2010

Gillard gets down the business

Nick Bryant | 01:38 UK time, Monday, 28 June 2010


"Game on." With her first two words in the parliamentary chamber, the new Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a telling insight into her style of politics. She uttered them to the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, as he reached out a congratulatory hand when she made her entrance.

Julia Gillard at a press conference in Canberra, 24 June 2010Although trained as a lawyer, Julia Gillard has long been a professional politician, and a proudly political animal. Just 48 hours before she made her move on Kevin Rudd, the ABC's popular show Australian Story reworked its 2006 profile of the then deputy Labor leader and broadcast it again in primetime. It presented her as self-deprecatory, charming, family-loving and genuinely funny. But she also came across also intensely, myopically and ruthlessly political. As she spoke of her entry into electoral politics, one particular quote leapt out from the television. "I had to fight hard to get preselected," she said. "I had to play a factional game to do that, I had to count numbers, I had to make deals and I'd do all of that again tomorrow if I needed to." Two days later, in a new factional game, she had the numbers once more, this time to oust the prime minister.

One of the ironies of the elevation of Australia's first female prime minister is the behind-the-scenes role played by macho, political chieftains - the powerful factional leaders who dominate the Labor party and who work in rooms that are not only full of smoke but choked with testosterone. You can read more about that here and I would love you to weigh in. Along with Gillard, male powerbrokers were the central players in last week's political game. They had lined up so many votes behind her that she did not even have to make a phone call.

Kevin Rudd at press conference after being ousted as prime minister, 24 June 2010"The polls have already suggested a Gillard bounce, and that the government has restored a commanding leading over the Liberal-led opposition. There's no sign yet of a backlash from voters who have taken pity on Kevin Rudd, and who did not feel that he truly got a "fair shake of the sauce bottle," as he himself might have put it.

In her first remarks as prime minister, Gillard has presented herself as a champion of the battlers, as John Howard once did. But her rhetoric was borrowed from Bill Clinton, who was particularly adept at finding points of convergence between liberal and conservative America. In his famous mantra, Clinton claimed to be the president of those who "work hard and play by the rules". Here is Gillard's variation on that theme:

"I believe in a Government that rewards those who work the hardest, not those who complain the loudest. I believe in a Government that rewards those who, day in and day out, work in our factories and on our farms, in our mines and in our mills, in our classrooms and in our hospitals, that rewards that hard work, decency and effort.
The people who play by the rules, set their alarms early, get their kids off to school, stand by their neighbours and love their country."

Gillard has already demonstrated her political smarts by signalling a change of course on Australia's population policy. Kevin Rudd had favoured a Big Australia policy, which would have seen a 60% rise in the population. But Gillard has said she wants to put the brake on the population surge. She knows that in the crowded and congested suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, in particular, the Big Australia policy was damaging the government in marginal parliamentary seats. Doubtless there is also a dog whistle element to her announcement as well, for it implies that she will place limits on immigration.

In language which echoes Bill Clinton, with conservatism tinged with progressivism, she says that she feels the concern of Australians over the arrival of asylum seekers, the most paranoiac issue in Australian politics. As she told the political veteran Laurie Oakes of Channel Nine news: "I can understand that Australians are disturbed when they see boats arrive on our shores unannounced. I can understand that Australians are disturbed by that.....I've got no truck at all with elevating and fear-mongering about a problem for political advantage which is what I believe the opposition is seeking to do, but I am full of understanding for the perspective of the Australian people. They want strong management of our borders and I will provide it."

My hunch is that Gillard's strongest card will be her sense of humour. You can watch it at the end of her first interview as prime minister with the presenter of ABC's 730 Report, Kerry O'Brien. "It's a great day for redheads, too, Kerry", she said to her fellow red-head.

With an election probably now just months away, it's "game on" in Julia Gillard's new political world. Don't forget to set your alarm.

UPDATE 06:34 UK time: Setting the alarm early has just got a whole lost easier now that England have been dumped from the World Cup - and with Teutonic flair as well as efficiency. But even after the hang-over of Bloemfontein, I was up in time to see the start of Julia Gillard's first full week as prime minister. It began with a tour of a shopping centre in the bellwether seat of Eden Monaro which borders Canberra, a Labor-held marginal. By lunchtime she was unveiling her first cabinet, which looks very much like her predecessor's last.

The main headline is that Kevin Rudd has not been offered a job, despite reports that he wanted to become the foreign affairs minister. The sub-headline is that some of those factional chieftains who provided her with the numbers have not been rewarded with promotions. Again, both look like smart politics.

Farewell to Rudd

Nick Bryant | 06:18 UK time, Thursday, 24 June 2010


"We are from Australia. We are here to help." On the eve of the international climate change summit, as he basked in the glow of international attention and revelled in his status as a friend of the chair, Kevin Rudd was at the very top of his game, and at the height of his powers, when he sat for an interview with the BBC and neatly reworked the line he had first deployed at his party's annual conference in 2007 for global consumption.

Kevin Rudd speaks during the press conference on 24 June 2010

Back then, in the BC phase of prime ministership - Before Copenhagen - his re-election seemed a certainty. Australia had become the only nation to avoid recession after the global financial crisis. The Liberal opposition was in disarray. The talk was of a Rudd era that would stretch for a decade, a counterpoint to the Howard era of conservative rule.
Barack Obama had even let it be known that there was no international leader with whom he felt more comfortable, a gilt-edged presidential plaudit.

So the tumble of events which has led to his ouster from power has been extraordinary. In the end, he could not even muster enough support from his own party to contest the leadership ballot, which Julia Gillard was set to win with ease. The factional chiefs of the Australian Labor Leadership had decided that the party stood a better chance of winning the forthcoming election with the personable Gillard in charge. So, too, had she. Gillard, who had been steadfast in her loyalty for months, decided to make her move. She has long had the numbers to beat Kevin Rudd in the Labour caucus. As soon as she demanded a leadership contest - or a spill, as they are called here - Kevin Rudd knew that he would spend his last night in The Lodge, the prime ministerial residence.

A bungled home insulation scheme. Cost blow-outs in his school improvement programme. An angry battle with the resources sector over a super tax on their super profits which sparked a backlash, especially in the main resources states of Western Australia and Queensland.

But the pivotal moment surely came when Kevin Rudd shelved the emissions trading scheme. Having once described global warming as the greatest moral challenge of our time, back-flipping on his flagship policy was seen as an act of political cowardice. Gutless was the oft-heard complaint.

Other concerns started to crystallise and coalesce. His leadership style. His reluctance to consult. There were complaints about his intellectual arrogance and a speaking style which earned him the nickname the "Castro of the South Pacific". He had always been more popular with the Australian people than with his own party. It is not an exaggeration to say that some of parliamentary colleagues absolutely despise him.

Constantly fighting back tears, Kevin Rudd listed his legacy. The sorry to indigenous Australians. The ratification of the Kyoto protocol. Hospital reforms. A national curriculum in schools. As he struggled to contain his emotions, you got the feeling he was struggling to contain his frustrations: how could his party remove him from office?

For years - perhaps since his childhood - the prime ministership was the target of Kevin Rudd's ambitions. He has oft been accused of being robotic, emotionless and being fluent in Mandarin but not in English. But his farewell tears had their own eloquence - they spoke of his bitter disappointment at not getting to complete a job which he so dearly loved doing.

Others questions are thrown up. Is Australia ready for a female prime minister? The answer clearly is yes. Can Julia Gillard reverse the drop in the polls? Perhaps.

But let us dwell perhaps for one last time on Kevin Rudd. Was his party right to oust him?

Should Australian forces leave Afghanistan?

Nick Bryant | 03:20 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010


After going for almost a year without a single fatality in Afghanistan, Australia has lost five soldiers this month alone - almost a third of its deaths since Australian forces were sent to the country in the aftermath of 9/11.

On two separate days in June, Australia has suffered more multiple deaths in the ranks of its armed forces than in any conflict since Vietnam. The latest deaths came when three Australian special forces commandoes were killed in a helicopter crash in Kandahar province, and bring Australia's military death toll in the country to 16. This is the fighting season in Afghanistan, and government ministers are warning of an increase in violence. The surge of American forces will bring more fighting.

For the US-led force of international troops, June might well become the bloodiest of the near nine-year war. So far this month 57 international troops have been killed. In July last year, 75 troops were killed.

The Australian deaths were announced on the day that Britain reached the grim landmark of 300 fatalities.

The Rudd government is clearly concerned about an erosion of public support for what many regard as an unwinnable war. The Defence Minister, John Faulkner, admitted as much on ABC Radio National on Tuesday morning. "Of course I am concerned about the level of public support for what we are doing in Afghanistan but I continue to stress... how important our role in Afghanistan is," he said. "It is absolutely critical for the safety and security of Australians and Australia to help prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a training ground and operation base for international terrorists."
A fresh poll, conducted before the latest deaths were announced, showed that 61% of Australians want to see the diggers brought home. When the question was posed back in March, 51% said they wanted to see a withdrawal. It points to a sharp decline in public support.

Kevin Rudd has tried to bolster public support by arguing that Afghanistan is the frontline in the battle against international terrorism, and that fighting the Taliban prevents attacks against Australians at home and abroad.

The problem for the Rudd government is that it will take another three to five years to train the Afghan national army, the primary Australian mission in the country, according to the latest defence force assessment. The Dutch, who have been the lead force in Oruzgan province where many of the 1550 Australian diggers are based, are pulling out this year. The Canadians are leaving next year. Perhaps more Australians will come to ask why the diggers are staying put.

Though the public is growing increasingly restless, the politicians in Canberra are standing firm. The Afghan commitment is so vital to the security alliance with America, which means that there is strong bipartisan support for Australia's continued involvement. As the veteran political commentator, Michelle Grattan, has written in the Melbourne Age: "This is an unpopular war in Australia but one that is remarkably uncontentious politically. Both sides support the commitment - indeed, Tony Abbott would like to see more Australian troops there in a higher profile role - but neither wants to make the war a focus of domestic political attention."

Will the Australian people even have a say? Probably not, which partly explains why the public debate here is neither heated or particularly animated. My hunch is that this posting will get a low comment count.

Will the Australian government even get to decide? Again, it is arguable.

The strong likelihood is that the decision will ultimately be taken in Washington rather than Canberra. Michelle Grattan, who knows better than most how Australian diplomacy works, put it very bluntly: "In reality, we will be there as long as the United States wants us to be."

Australia's Asian conundrum

Nick Bryant | 00:58 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010


Xi Jinping and Kevin RuddA week which began with much of Australia enjoying a day off in celebration of the Queen's birthday ended with the start of a visit from China's Vice President Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao's heir apparent. He touched down during the weekend when Barack Obama was supposed to enjoy a spot of family sight-seeing in and around Sydney harbour, a visit deemed by Mr Obama's image-makers to be visually unhelpful at a time when the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening to overwhelm his presidency.

All three events show how Australia continues to be pulled in different directions: the bonds of kinship with Britain are resilient and strong, the strategic relationship with America, as codified in the Anzus Treaty, remains the basis for its regional security, while its commercial rapport with China and other Asian countries explains much of its modern-day prosperity. China is Australia's top trading partner. Japan is number two.

The latest poll from Lowy Institute suggests that Australians themselves are undecided where their country fits within the world. Some 32% said Australia was more part of Asia, 31% said it was part of the Pacific, and 31% said it was not part of any region. Remarkably, 5% said it was part of Europe.

Kevin Rudd, who was captivated as a child by Gough Whitlam's breakthrough visit to China and went on to become fluent in mandarin, vowed to make Australia the most Asia-literate country in the western world. But is it happening?

The teaching of four Asian languages - Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian - has long been part of the push to strengthen Australia's influence in the region. But new government figures show that the country has actually witnessed a decline in the number of schoolchildren learning Asian languages in the past decade - a 22% per cent slump.

So few students are studying Indonesian - nationwide, there are only 1,000 students in their final year at school studying the language - that it's feared its teaching could die out in Australian schools. Academics say that more schoolchildren were studying Asian languages in the 1960s than at the start of what many have dubbed the Asian century.

Even Australia's participation in the Football World Cup is illustrative of how its place in the world remains unfixed and unresolved. It speaks of Australia's new engagement with Asia, since the Socceroos are representing Asia, while New Zealand are Oceania's sole representative - and didn't the All Whites do extraordinarily well against Italy! It throws up evidence of the ties with America, the only other competing country which insists on calling the game "soccer" rather than "football". And there's a strong British connection, since most of the Socceroos make their highly-remunerated livings in the English Premier League.

So I'll end with the question asked in the Lowy Institute's survey: where does Australia fit within the region and the world?

The sound of Australia

Nick Bryant | 10:02 UK time, Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Does the blind indigenous singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu possess the finest Australian voice that has ever been recorded? A writer in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper has scaled those descriptive heights, and it's a persuasive claim.

As the music-forward website Hot Indie News recently noted, Q Magazine described his voice as "celestial... aching with the pain of the past and hope for the future". No less impressed, The Independent newspaper in the UK said it was "unwavering in its delicate beauty".

I was lucky enough to hear him live in the most spellbinding of concerts as he was just on the cusp on his fame, and went out and bought his debut CD straight away. His voice has that enchanting quality, as tens of thousands have discovered. The album, Gurrumul, ended up on the BBC's list of top 10 world music releases of 2009, and is about to be released in America.

The singer, who grew up on Elcho Island off the coast of north-east Arnhem Land, is about to set off on his first US tour as well, and by the middle of next month will have performed in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and a string of other US venues. Catch him if you can.

The international recognition being heaped on Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu comes at a time when other indigenous performers are complaining of being marginalised and neglected at home. A new study from the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australasian Performing Rights Association suggests that indigenous musicians get only a small fraction of airtime in their own country. On the national broadcaster, ABC, indigenous music makes up less than 2% of the music played, while on commercial radio stations it's even worse - 0.14%. There is a common-held feeling that you have to make it abroad, as Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu has now done, before being granted the kind of recognition at home that is commensurate with our talent.
Even when some indigenous bands get record deals, they are often asked to become more mainstream.

Recently, indigenous singer Lou Bennett told ABC's AM programme: "They did not understand us. They wanted to make us a band that fitted the mainstream. They asked even to lose weight. They asked us to change our songs."

According to the report, indigenous groups often found it hard to get live gigs, and there was even one example of a group being turned away when the organisers realised its members were Aboriginal.

For music-lovers everywhere, the report raised a troubling thought: there might be other Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingus out there, and we might never get to hear them.
I'm listening to his CD as I write, and pondering that claim: is his truly the finest Australian voice that has even been digitised, put on vinyl or recorded for posterity in any other form? John Farnham, Natalie Imbruglia, even Dame Joan Sutherland? I think he has the edge, and America will soon get to judge.

UPDATE: It is hard to talk of the discrimination against indigenous musicians without mentioning the row engulfing Australia rugby league in the lead-up to the second State of Origin match between Queensland and New South Wales, the code's great mid-season showpiece.

One of Australia's most legendary players, Andrew Johns, has had to step down from his coaching position with New South Wales, after it was revealed that one of the NSW players, Timana Tahu, had walked out of the squad. Tahu had been offended by Johns' use of racist slurs to describe one of Queensland's star players, Greg Inglis, which he claims was not an isolated incident. Johns has apologised for his remark. You can read more here.

Socceroos - a sub-prime investment?

Nick Bryant | 00:47 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010


socceroo_595.jpgWell at least the Socceroos' keeper does not have "hands of clod". But there is nothing else to take from their opening game of the World Cup against Germany. For the Australians, it was calamitous: A 4-0 defeat. A red card for their best player, Tim Cahill, while their main man of old, Harry Kewell, did not even make it onto the pitch for the pre-match warm-up.

While Australia looked tactically incoherent, Germany were worryingly classy - the efficiency is a given - world football's most tried-and-tested cliché - but they even had oodles of youthful flair. Out-played, out-thought and even out-battled, the Socceroos were pretty ordinary, as their compatriots would put it, and made the Germans look especially good. It was the most one-sided game of the tournament so far.

Perhaps it might have been different if Cahill or Richard Garcia had scored in the opening minutes - possibly, Garcia, the Hull City striker, was surprised to find himself in the starting line-up. Perhaps the score-line would not have been so lop-sided had the Mexican referee not shown the same appetite for meting out punishment as an Australian traffic warden. But just as terrible goalkeeping lapses, along with missed penalties, have become elemental in the World Cup experience for every England fan, harsh or erroneous refereeing decisions are becoming part and parcel of watching Australia. They were notoriously unlucky on that front in 2006 during their second round clash against Italy, when Fabio Grosso was awarded the dodgiest of penalties in stoppage time while the score was still 0-0. But by the time Cahill was ejected, the game was lost already, and it is hard to see this Australian team coming anywhere near the 2006 team, which generated a wave of excitement across the country.

The suspicion ahead of the tournament was that the Socceroos were past it, and they looked like ageing astronauts asked to go on one last moon shot. Why, Kewell could not even make it to the launch-pad. As Michael Cockerill of the Sydney Morning Herald put it: "The Socceroos, or at least those players we have come to identify as our national team, have passed their use-by date. On the evidence of this excruciating football lesson handed out by Germany, there's no doubt they have." After the success of 2006, the Australian sporting press has come to expect better. Cockerill, who is probably Australia's most influential soccer writer, called it a "complete, utter disaster."

Even before the opening game, Australian football had taken a big hit. Deprived of the backing of the Asian football federation, it had to withdraw its bid for hosting the 2018 and will concentrate instead on 2022. A lacklustre World Cup campaign in South Africa will do nothing to help what was always looking like an implausible cause. Australian fans will be hoping that the tactics of Frank Lowy, the shopping centre magnate who runs Aussie football, will be superior to those of Pim Verbeek, the team's Dutch coach.

According to the expert panel on SBS - the Australian channel which has the rights to the tournament - one "positive" to take out of the game was that the Socceroos remain in the tournament. But it is hard to conjure up a more fragile straw, or to clutch it more feebly. My pre-tournament bet was that the Socceroos would score just two goals in South Africa. That may end up looking generous.

No doubt there will be a lot of corporate advertisers in Australia this morning feeling they have made a sub-prime investment. After all, Tim Cahill has become the poster-boy of Aussie football, and is the star of many of the World Cup-related marketing campaigns. Qantas, the national carrier, has a painted one of its aircraft with a special Socceroos livery. Alas, it may well be bringing the team home much earlier than hoped, but not earlier than expected. There's a realistic streak in the Australian sporting public, and they know that the Socceroos are a team that can occasionally contain the best in the world, but rarely beat them.

Is Rudd driven by an 'angry heart'?

Nick Bryant | 21:00 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010


I started my working week by listening to Kevin Rudd deliver the keynote speech at a health union conference in Sydney - at the very hall, in fact, where he uttered his now famous introduction to the Labor national conference in 2007: "My name is Kevin, I'm from Queensland and I'm here to help.''rudd_getty.jpg

The timer on my digital tape recorder, which measures such things to the thousandth of a second, says that the speech lasted 36 minutes from start to finish, but confessedly it felt longer - which is part of the reason why Mr Rudd has apparently earned nickname the "Castro of the Southern Hemisphere".

It comes from the journalist David Marr's attention-grabbing essay on the Australian prime minister - Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd. As one would expect from the prize-winning biographer of Patrick White, the essay is quite beautifully written and loaded with tart observations and telling details.

As a student at the Australian National University in Canberra, we learn that young Kevin Rudd was a leading light in a group of evangelical Christians known as the Navigators, who tried to clamp down on liquor and rock music at their college. As a Labor MP seeking to ingratiate himself on a mistrustful Labor caucus, we hear that he kept spreadsheets listing the birthdays of his colleagues' wives, as well as the names of their children. There's a lovely detail about his chief of staff reportedly keeping a sleeping bag in his office, because of his boss's round-the-clock work ethic - the chief of staff is "available fourteen hours a day, seven days a week".

The narrative arc is of Kevin Rudd's relentless drive to power, plotted from his earliest days, with the office of prime minister always the target of his ambitions. "His drive to acquire power is extraordinarily strong - the work of a lifetime - but he shows less enthusiasm to exercise it. His instinct is to hoard rather than spend." It is also a portrait of an intensely political figure, for whom decisions are based on his assessment of what is politically sustainable. In a particularly deft line, Marr observes: "The polls gave Rudd permission to sign up [to Kyoto] and say sorry."

Because of this tendency to be hamstrung by public opinion, Marr argues that Mr Rudd's spell in office has been marked by political timidity, save for his speech at Peking University in March 2008, in which he criticized China for its human rights record in Tibet. He quotes a "Labor grandee" on his intense political watchfulness: "Never forget the extraordinary caution of Queenslanders."

Various examples of prime ministerial rudeness are chronicled - the way, for example, he has cold-shouldered party functionaries who were crucial to his rise, and distanced himself from the very journalists who he once bombarded with cheery emails and text messages. Marr notes how the prime minister greatly angered his caucus by not turning up to the funeral of the much-loved former Labor minister, John Button, a key figure in the Hawke and Keating administrations, but found time that day to visit the bedside of Cate Blanchett, who had just given birth. Marr regularly returns to his isolation within the Labor party, and his lack of popularity within it. Rudd is "a loner, but not a loner by choice". He retells the story of how Rudd created a constituency for himself outside of the Labor machine, the audience of the breakfast television show Sunrise, which offered proof of his vote-winning capabilities.

Because of his obsession with micro-management, Marr describes Rudd as "the choke point" of the government, and notes: "He responds to pressure by burying himself in detail... Rudd is proudly the prime minister of fine detail." He also quotes a lovely line from Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald: "Rudd is starting to resemble the home handyman in a house full of half-finished jobs, while still eager to begin more."

But Marr's overarching thesis is more of a psychiatric assessment: that the Australian prime minister is driven by an "angry heart."

"He is a hard man to read," he says, "because the anger is hidden by a public face, a diplomat's face. Who is the real Kevin Rudd? He is the last man you see when the anger vents. He's a politician with rage at his core, impatient rage."

Your comments please...

That 70s show

Nick Bryant | 11:29 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010


If America was the place to be in the rock "n" roll Fifties and Britain was the fulcrum of the swinging Sixties, was Australia the nation in which to enjoy the Seventies? After the somnolence of the Menzies years, the termination of the White Australia policy and increased recognition granted to indigenous Australians by the 1967 referendum, the country experienced something of a cultural and political awakening.

As if to mark out the break with the past, in 1970 a young Australian feminist by the name of Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch. In 1972, the Labor Party launched its folkloric "It's time" campaign, which sought to end 23 years of continuous conservative rule and presented the ALP as political dam-busters. In 1973 the Sydney Opera House finally opened its soaring shells to the public, giving Australia a world-class cultural landmark.

The Seventies arguably produced Australia's most improbable prime minister: Gough Whitlam, a classicist who spoke fluent Italian, who was described by his one-time speech writer, Graeme Freudenberg (of "Men and Women of Australia" fame) as not "a man out his time" but "the representative Australian of his time".

The Whitlam years produced by far the country's most gripping political drama, the 1975 Dismissal Crisis, when the prime minister was sacked by the Governor General, Sir John Kerr. It also produced the most intriguing conspiracy theory: that Kerr was not only the representative of the Queen, but a tool of the CIA, which wanted to see the back of Australia's leftist prime minister because there was a risk that he might close US security installations on Australian soil.

It was the decade when Australia became more emphatically Australian, with Whitlam initiating the process through which God Save the Queen was finally ditched in favour of Advance Australia Fair. The British honours system was replaced with the Order of Australia.

The country was also rethinking relations with Asia. It recognised China for a start, and nurtured much closer ties with Japan.

It also saw the birth of modern Australian film, producing Aussie classics like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Don's Party, and Wake in Fright. For the "Bazza" sequel, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, Gough Whitlam even agreed to a walk-on role. Writing in the Spectator Australia, Ben Davis notes: "It's my contention that the period from around 1970 to the early 1980s was a Golden Age in Australian popular culture that has never been equalled by anything that came after."

Sport basked in some golden years, as well. Cricket witnessed the beginning of the Chappell era, and with it the terrorisation of English batsmen courtesy of Mssrs Lillee and Thomson. In tennis, Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, and John Newcombe dominated Wimbledon in 1970 and 1971. True, the Montreal Olympics was a disaster, with Australia failing to win a single gold, but at least the country's soccer team qualified for its first World Cup appearance in Germany two years earlier.

Was there not something irresistible about the Aussie Seventies aesthetic, as well? And what about those moustaches? I rest my case......

UPDATES: As you may have seen, the Australian government has instructed the Australian Federal Police to investigate Google for possible criminal breaches. It relates to the use of Google's Street View cars, and escalates the ongoing battle between the Rudd government and the internet giant.

Obama: Canceller-in-chief

Nick Bryant | 07:55 UK time, Friday, 4 June 2010


In the very week that Australia launched its new global tourism campaign, the world's most powerful traveller, Barack Obama, has decided to postpone his trip Down Under. For the second time. Australians could be forgiven for looking upon him as the "canceller-in-chief".

There's a peculiar confluence about the domestic political problems which have led the White House to postpone two scheduled visits. Back in March, Obama decided to remain in Washington to push his healthcare reforms through Congress. Over the same period, Kevin Rudd was trying to sell his own healthcare proposals to sceptical state premiers. Now the president has decided to stay in America to oversee the efforts to deal with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rudd, too, is battling with the resources sector, even if the mining tax is a political problem of his own making.

"The man who walked on water is now ensnared by a crisis under water," wrote the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd of the president's political predicament. Similarly, the one-time golden boy of Australian politics is ensnared by a political crisis involving black coal and red iron ore.

The White House has said it will try to reschedule the visit to Australia and Indonesia sometime in the near future, but where will it fit in the Australian political calendar? It is an intriguing question since most political insiders here expect the federal election to come in either August or September. It seems increasingly unlikely that Obama will make it here before Australians head to the polls.

This is bad news for Kevin Rudd. President Obama has made no secret of his admiration for the Australian prime minister, and a few intricately choreographed photo-opportunities on and around Sydney Harbour would surely have helped his host. For Mr Rudd, the visit might even have given him the chance to press the reset button on his embattled prime ministership.

Instead, the Australian prime minister finishes yet another week of negative headlines with more dispiriting news. It makes him look less consequential, and adds to the impression that he is being buffeted by events rather than exerting much control. Certainly, he is struggling to catch a break.

So Mr Rudd could be forgiven if the words of a previous tourism advertisement came to the forefront of his always crowded mind: President Obama, "Where the bloody hell are you?"

Too far to the right?

Nick Bryant | 10:24 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010


The view has fast taken hold in conservative circles in Australia that Prime Minister David Cameron did not secure an outright victory in the British election because he was not conservative enough: that he offered to the UK electorate the political equivalent of comfort food rather than serving up more succulent chunks of conservative red meat. There are already clear signs that this prevailing orthodoxy might strongly influence how Tony Abbott, the conservative opposition leader, will contest the forthcoming federal election.

With the selective deployment of history, you could argue the case either flat or round that David Cameron was too much of a centrist. True, the British Tories enjoyed their greatest electoral success in recent times when Margaret Thatcher was in her pomp. But equally you could argue that her personal demise was the result of conservative over-reach, when she pressed the unpopular poll tax on a sceptical electorate - in much the same way that John Howard pushed unpopular workplace relations laws, the much-hated WorkChoices reforms, on Australia.

What happened in the 2005 UK election is also instructive. Back then, the Tories hired Lynton Crosby, the electoral strategist behind four consecutive Liberal victories in Australia in the hope that he could do for Michael Howard, the then Conservative leader, what he had done for his Australian namesake, John. But by concentrating mainly on immigration, a so-called "dog whistle" issue which had helped Mr Howard in Australia, the Conservatives failed to oust Tony Blair, even though the incumbent prime minister was the unpopular British architect of an unpopular American-led war.

Tony Abbott

Six months into his leadership, Tony Abbott has moved the Liberals to the right. He has ditched what many saw as the Australian experiment in a Cameron-style brand of conservatism when Malcolm Turnbull was in charge of the party. In terminology that evokes the Thatcher era, and which is being heard more frequently in these parts, the "drys" are very much in the ascendancy and the few remaining "wets" are operating on the fringes. A conservatives' conservative, who has always claimed to be the ideological love-child of John Howard and a right-wing MP called Bronwyn Bishop, Mr Abbott has already signalled the revival of Howard-era policies. His newly-unveiled immigration policy, aimed at a halting boat people setting out for Australia, is modelled on Mr Howard's Pacific Solution. His planned workplaces reforms have echoes of WorkChoices. He is firmly on the side of the resources sector in its fight with the Rudd government over the super tax on super profits.

Occasionally, there have been policy surprises. His proposal for paid parental leave, which would be paid for out of a tax on employers, sparked a mini-revolt in the Liberal party room.

But for the most part, his policies have not only reflected his strongly-held personal conservative beliefs but a strategic assessment that, after just three years of Kevin Rudd, the Australian people are yearning for the return of a truly conservative government. Whereas Kevin Rudd is often described as Howard-lite, Tony Abbott is offering the genuine product.

So will it work? Malcolm Fraser, the former Liberal Prime Minister, has already left the party because it had gone too far to the right. Reportedly, he told friends that he did not like what he viewed as the racist overtones creeping back in his party's immigration policies.

But Tony Abbott appears to be calculating that the face of Australian conservatism has changed: that there are many more Howard conservatives now than Fraser conservatives; and that the power lies with blue collar battlers rather than blue-ribbon patricians like his former leader. He may be will be right, if you'll forgive the unintentional pun. But is it a route which can take him all the way to The Lodge?

The evidence from this week's polling suggests that neither Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott is offering the kind of leadership that Australians want, and that the Greens have been main beneficiary. The latest Newspoll suggests that Greens would get a 16% share of the primary vote, a doubling of its vote at the last election. It also shows that Labor suffered its worst poll numbers in four years, just before Kim Beazley was ousted. As a headline in The Australian puts it, over this excellent piece from George Megalogenis, "Two Parties Unpreferred".
Whisper it quietly, but might Australia be heading for a hung parliament?

The Ocker Shocker

Nick Bryant | 03:49 UK time, Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Kangaroos skipping playfully through the bush, a barbie on the beach, a brace of surfers waiting for the first big wave of the day, a local pub "where everyone's your mate," a sea plane skimming over the Great Barrier Reef, an Aborginal elder stood in front of Uluru, a ferry carving through Sydney harbour, with the Opera House and bridge in the background, and, of course, the mandatory koala. All to the bouncy refrain of a catchy new song, "There's Nothing Like Australia".

I speak, of course, of Tourism Australia's long-awaited new global advertisement, where no cliché and stereotype is left un-reinforced. It appears to have been cobbled together by Paul Hogan and Barry "Bazza" McKenzie after a long night on the grog, with the occasional idea hurled in by Sir Les Patterson and pictures gleaned from the past 10 years of Qantas in-flight advertisements. Needless to say, I think it's brilliant.

I've long thought, and have written before, that Tourism Australia could save itself a lot of money by simply re-running Paul Hogan's "C'mon Say G'day" campaign, which was such a smash hit in the 1980s. The reason is simple: the rest of the world loves the very clichés which make many Australians cringe. Regular readers of this blog already know how sophisticated, fashionable and up-to-moment I think you all are. But that discovery comes as an added bonus for visitors. When most tourists touch down in Australia they want to have caught sight of a koala, and ideally a kangaroo as well, by lunchtime.

"Stone the crows, are they fair dinkum about this flamin' ad?" asks the Sydney Morning Herald, in which the writer Rick Feneley suggests the new ad "casts us as a nation of tone-deaf bogans caught in a '70s time-warp." On the blogosphere some have already described the ad as "bogan pride at its best", and "cringeworthy". Another commentator asks: "When will we shake these dowdy, 50-year-old stereotypes?"

My take, for what it's worth, is that you have already shaken many of them, but when it comes to global advertising campaigns it is worth taking the self-inflicted hit. After all, playing to your strengths means playing to your clichés. Previous campaigns, which have asked people to take a fresh look at a modern, thrusting Australia, have bombed. So while the new ad may be an "ocker shocker", it arguably might work precisely for that reason.

The problem seems to arise when people start equating a 90-second tourism advertisement with our old friend, a complete summation of Australia's national identity. But if it looks like a tourist ad, and sounds like a tourism ad then the chances are it is just that - a tourism ad.

UPDATE: Advertisements, of course, are much in the news in this part of the world, because the Rudd government has decided to bend its own rules, and spend $A38.5m ($32.5m, £22.4m) promoting its tax reforms - or, more accurately, countering the media campaign from the resources sector to block the super tax on super profits. Before the last election, Kevin Rudd declared government advertising as "a sick cancer within our system...a cancer on democracy." Your comments please.....

UPDATE: Many thanks for your comments on the new Tourism Australia advertisement. This may be a complete beat-up from the Brisbane Times, but it is running a story about the musical similarities between the song, There's Nothing Like Australia, and Disney's Mickey Mouse Club theme tune. It comes, of course, in the wake of the Men at Work legal spat over Down Under, which a judge decided sounded too much like that kindergarten classic, Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.

As for the cringe factor, this is a good piece from the ABC's Jonathan Green which presents the counter-argument to many of your comments.

I meant to mention my favourite comment about the new ad campaign, which came from talk-back radio. On caller said he was convinced "There's Nothing Like Australia" was a late Antipodean entry into this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Back to the mining tax.......

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