02 July 2007

Who hesitates is lost

The whole idea of the shock-and-awe approach to the plight of NT Aborigines is to take maximum advantage of positive impressions of the plan while minimising the time for people to consider nuanced approaches to the issue, teething problems and other real-world issues that make spin doctors despair of crafting sunny and positive headlines.

The same applies to any big-ticket political initiative, really. To quote from the best play ever written about politics:
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly

The wisdom of this can be seen with a number of major Howard government policies, the sort of things that legacies are made of and obituaries written about:

  • Iraq: the fact that country has not lived up to the extravagant claims made for it by proponents of the invasion means that the Coalition of the Willing has been defeated.

  • The Murray/Darling basin water management plan: a big deal at the start of the year, now so feeble that even Steve Bracks can pick it apart.

  • The Budget: lots of bread and circuses back in May, now all but forgotten and thanks for the $20 or whatever.

The illegality of compulsory medical checks on Aboriginal children underlies the practical difficulties of realising the aims of a badly thought-through plan announcement. Rather than have a trusted and well-informed public service develop a comprehensive set of answers to eminently foreseeable questions, Tony Abbott is trying to rally the very sort of people needed to make the policy announcement work:
... we do need more doctors and nurses to go to these places for the long-term and that in the end is the big challenge, and, I guess, that's — we'll be hoping to engage what I still think is the commitment to the idealism and the sense of vocation of the medical and nursing professions.

That's right: the very man who has built his entire career sledging do-gooders is rallying them to the flag (while at the same time, apparently trying to reinvent himself not as a statesman but a sk8r boi). With all due respect to Abbott, fuck off!

It's not just that Howard is doing too little, too late. It's that he's not capitalising on what little he is doing: the heavy artillery are pounding away but the infantry are not advancing to take enemy territory. He can't capitalise on what seem like big and impressive proposals because the detail required to sustain them hasn't been done. There are going to be a lot of newly-unemployed Coalition MPs on election night wondering what went wrong. Despite a decade in government they will lack the understanding of government necessary to articulate what went wrong and how to avoid the mistake next time. Any attempt to remedy this will be undermined by a fundamental lack of faith in government - but that's the Liberal Party for you.

You can see why folk are prepared, as Jase can't, to take a "magic carpet ride" with Rudd despite the lack of detail:
Any place it goes is right
Goes far, flies near, to the stars away from here

Well, you don't know what we can find from detail-poor policy pronouncements - but all that means is you stop relying on the pronouncements. People who occupy the positions that people like Jase hold should be more awake to the following than they are:

  • It's silly to expect an opposition to have the equivalent resources to government. Nobody who knows anything about politics expects otherwise.

  • Successful oppositions don't need to be policy-specific as Jase himself unwittingly observed with Howard over 1995-96 (or for that matter, Hawke in 1983, Fraser in 1975, any of the current State Labor governments, etc.).

  • Creating the impression of Aladdin's lamp from the reality of a "lousy candle" is part of the politician's art. The whole idea of a press gallery is to deconstruct these sorts of tricks.

It would be a mistake - the sort of mistake Jase and the Press Gang make all the time - to confuse Rudd's near-disappearance from the media as a sign that he's doing nothing in policy terms. Quite the opposite, as I'm sure we'll soon see (and the whole idea of a proper press gallery is to find out, in the absence of concrete proposals, who they're talking to and what their thinking is. Get to it, you lazy buggers!). The serious policy work has to be done now and Rudd is almost certainly rising to that. Labor's woolly thinking on preventative health will maintain their lead in this area far better than the detail-rich Medicare Gold last time around.

It would seem from polling that Aboriginal issues are making their customary non-impact on Australian politics. The number of people impressed by Howard and Brough is equalled by those who aren't, and both are overwhelmed by those who don't give a rat's. Never mind the thesaurus: Middle Australia and Central Australia are not the same thing at all.

One thing that has changed in Australian politics over the last fortnight or so is that Mal Brough is now a real contender to assume the leadership of the Liberal Party once Howard goes. Costello won't stick around, and will be so ground down by (and inextricably liked to) Howard. Abbott pisses too many people off. Turnbull and Nelson are so shallow they make Andrew Peacock or Kim Beazley look like Pericles. It may take a Queenslander to beat/neutralise a Queenslander, and in their post-Howard vulnerability the Liberals will turn to Brough as Action Man.

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