26 February 2012

Labor strains

Just about everyone else in these parts seems to have expressed an opinion on the matter of tomorrow's ALP leadership, so, for what it's worth, here's mine.

I believe that  Kevin Rudd was shabbily and grossly unfairly treated when he was deposed in 2010. I find it hard if not impossible to believe, not so much the stories about his alleged poor management practices, quick temper etc, that nobody close to him, especially his then deputy Ms Gillard and treasurer Mr Swan, could muster whatever it might have taken to put him on notice to change his way or at least do something to address them..

In a week of intemperate comments and backtracking Mr Swan's stand out. Michelle Grattan : Michelle Grattan in The Age on Friday put it well:

Ministers are not only tearing Rudd to shreds, they are destroying their own credibility.Take Treasurer Wayne Swan. He said on May 18, 2010, just a month before he was party to the coup that ousted Rudd: ‘‘Kevin Rudd has a deep commitment to Australia, a fantastic work ethic, and a very good record to put to people at the next election.”

On Wednesday this week, in his brutal attack on Rudd, Swan said: ‘‘The party has given Kevin Rudd all the opportunities in the world and he wasted them with his dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude towards other people, including our caucus colleagues.’’

Was Swan telling the truth when he was  serving under Rudd, or is he telling it now? Swan explains discrepancies in his comments by saying he has ‘‘been a team player all of my life’’.  He can’t say he only became aware of the Rudd negatives in retrospect. He was one of the gang of four that ran the government under Rudd. He tried to get change, he says, but Rudd’s ‘‘behaviour then became increasingly erratic and that is why the leadership changed’’. Yet remember how late in the piece Swan was still praising Rudd.

Since Swan's tirade he seems to have kept his mouth shut, and other Gillard supporters have generally been more measured in their comments. IMO far and away the best statement from either side has come from  Anthony Albanese , about whose position http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/albanese-integrity-puts-colleagues-to-shame-20120225-1tuvb.html"> Michelle Grattan says

Albanese is using this ballot to register a retrospective protest over the 2010 coup: he believes it was wrong that it happened, and the manner in which it was conducted was equally reprehensible...By his decision, Albanese is also contesting his colleagues' argument that Rudd is too dangerous and shambolic to be in charge of a government. Albanese was a senior minister through the Rudd period; as leader of the House he worked very closely with the then PM. Even if Rudd is a difficult character, Albanese is saying, by his support, that Rudd's personality defects are not so great that he should never again be let near The Lodge.

I concur.

Despite this, and polling which confirms that Rudd is the popular choice to win the ballot, it is widely agreed by commentators that tomorrow will see Prime Minister Gillard confirmed by a substantial majority of the caucus, who on this occasion, in contrast to 2010, will disregard the polls.

Whatever happens it will be very hard to pull the ALP into shape to put up a reasonable fight in the next federal election. One of the few silver linings is that the election need not, provided the independents hold firm, need not be held until 2013. Many Australians would like to see that happen sooner rather than later, and I am inclining towards that view.

19 February 2012

Seventy years on

Today is the seventieth anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Darwin. The event, which has never previously received much attention relative to Anzac Day (and perhaps some others), was commemorated today with a substantial (and IMO too long) ceremony in Darwin and various associated activities.

Unlike the Gallipoli landing, few tales of bravery, let alone heroism, emerged from the attack which, as many have remarked, was on a larger scale than that on Pearl Harbor a few weeks before.

Other parallels have been drawn, notably that both places were unprepared. Yes, Pearl Harbor was caught napping, but it initiated war between the USA and Japan, whereas the bombing of Darwin came several weeks into the war and a few days after the fall of Singapore, when the allies were in retreat, if not disarray, throughout.

There's not much for Australians to be proud of. Our defence strategists and politicians in the years and weeks before had failed to build up Darwin's defences, while many service people on the ground who, if even some of the stories are correct, panicked.

Does this mean that we shouldn't observe the day and, as many people especially in the Northern Territory want, to ensure that it has national recognition (though nobody I'm aware of has gone as far as suggesting it should be a public holiday)?

No. It was the first airborne attack on Australian soil, many people (perhaps more than in any other single event in our country) were killed or injured,  the full extent of the damage and casualties were concealed from the public, and, together with the other defeats and retreats of the weeks either side of it, intensified the wake up call to Australians. It also showed how reliant we were on the USA, who even then had a few fighter aircraft stationed in the area.

Today was a Sunday, so it was easier to get a good turnout to the ceremony. Whether future commemorations will, or should, be quite so lavish is a moot point. There seemed to be a slight whiff of triumphalism in some of the ancillary activities (eg artillery and machine guns being fired with apparent gusto) shown on ABC TV's detailed coverage.

We need to remember that there was very little effective resistance to the attack, just as we need to remember that the bombing was not a prelude to a Japanese invasion of, or even (as was falsely depicted in the movie Australia) an incursion into Australia. Significant as the bombing was, I believe it was,even for Australia, less significant than the fall of Singapore, where our forces suffered much higher losses - killed, wounded, POWs. But it was still important and so deserves to be commemorated in a lower key Anzac Day-style manner.