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When the cats away

By Bruce Haigh - posted Wednesday, 23 April 2008

There is no doubt that Kevin Rudd’s China visit was a success. Confirmation of this was provided by the Chinese who expressed themselves pleased with the visit.

Rudd demonstrated skill, judgment and a measure of courage in confronting the issue of Tibet, the purchase of BHP shares and the deployment of Chinese Olympic torch marshals in Australia.

It is the sort of performance that Australian’s have been looking for from their Prime Minister for the past 11 years. Rudd showed that he could rise to the occasion with intelligence and humour. Speaking Mandarin and being able to pronounce names helped.


Announcing the appointment of Quentin Bryce as Australia’s first female and next Governor-General was the cream on the cake.

Rudd returned on a high to be faced with the circus of the 2020 Conference and a raft of under performing Ministers and senior public servants.

It is not so much new ideas that are required from the likes of Tim Fisher, who is part of the problem, but rather getting policy and decision making sorted out in Canberra.

Joel Fitzgibbon is struggling with a dysfunctional department which didn’t have the nous or courage to stand up to the sillier and impulsive defence acquisition decisions of Howard.

No original thinking or planning has gone into defence decision making for the past decade. Internal communication, flow of information and decision making processes are fundamentally flawed. Short of a wide ranging enquiry the Department of Defence needs as a Minister a person with leadership, character and intelligence; experience would not go astray either. Fitzgibbon is captive to the lowest common denominator which is now the prevailing culture in the Department of Defence.

Immigration is another department which is dysfunctional and which is in need of a far ranging enquiry to get it back on keel or a top notch Minister and probably both. Chris Evans is in way over his depth and is getting snowed on daily. Overstaying British and European backpackers remain in Australia unmolested while Chinese and other nationals are rounded up, as an example. Rackets surrounding student visas remain, with large sums of money changing hands as a means of securing entry to Australia on the thinnest of educational undertakings.


Turning back boats remains policy despite being illegal under Australian law and International Conventions to which Australia is a signatory.

Evans might work closely with the Parliamentary Secretary for Aid, Bob McMullan, to arrive at a policy which allows people from Timor and the Pacific to work in rural Australia. Such a scheme would, in my opinion, be a far better form of aid than the hand outs currently on offer. In addition if workers were accompanied by dependents the work force would be more stable and the dependants and children would help justify the retention of health services and school teachers in smaller communities.

The Aid portfolio is important. Looming world food shortages will make it more so. It must be given the status and leverage of a department and the Minister ought to be the highly experienced and competent, Bob McMullan.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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