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The politics of pettiness

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 26 June 2009

So it has come to this. At a time when the energy and intellect of our elected representatives should be grappling with climate change, the management of water, the implementation of infrastructure and the details of defence expenditure and policy, they are instead embroiled in the politics of local government; councillors doing favours for the local used car leader.

The spectacle of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull shouting at each other and using the media to try and defend their egos has been pathetic. There will be no winners out of this ill-advised battle.

But the contrived little stoush and the confected defence have given a glance into some darker aspects of government.


The AFP has been called in to referee; this is dangerous, it is not the role of a police force. Do Australians want disputes within a democracy decided by the police?

This is the same unreformed AFP which shopped the Bali Nine, gave us the Haneef affair, which for attempted political advantage was sustained with contrived evidence; and it recently failed in the primary task of airport security.

The AFP has form. It was politicised by the previous Coalition government and is now poised to bite the hand of its creator. How ironic. There should be a lesson in that for Rudd. But he has demonstrated a disinclination for reform since taking office. He slipped into the Howard uniform as if it had been tailor made.

The ABC reports that the AFP has been investigating leaks and other issues within and from Treasury for some time, including an exchange of emails between the Treasurer, Ken Henry, and the head of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, over the issue of the Banking Guarantee. What levels of confidentiality and security pertain to this exchange when the two organisations are meant to be independent of one another? Or is it rather a matter of political and public service sensitivity; and if so why then would the AFP be involved?

In the grubby used car affair, an email is said to have been created, for reasons as yet unexplained, but implied by those who allegedly do not know, for political purposes; apparently to finger the Prime Minister. Maybe or maybe it was a sting. How could we be sure with the secrecy with which the AFP is operates? We are asked to accept their activities on trust which is an increasingly big ask.

This sordid and boring little affair tells us much about the nature of the Federal Government and the media. For the latter politics is an entertaining blood sport which needs encouragement to try and hang onto retreating advertisers. Gone is the focus on national issues including the role of the AFP.


The Federal Government is paralysed in the face of significant challenges and the need to govern and make decisions; it is populist, gutless and narcissistic.

It has maintained the previous governments discredited refugee policy.

The badly written Defence White Paper, was more of a Christmas wish list than a realistic appraisal of Australian Defence needs and capabilities. It has been hard to take seriously and this has been reinforced by the limited reaction and debate that followed its release; most serious analysts expect it to sink without a trace, which is a combination of poor policy and an inability to take into account the effect on Defence expenditure of the global recession/depression.

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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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