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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?"


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