Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Bartlett’

Read Andrew Bartlett

I am not going to single out a particular post, but I wanted to say that anyone who is not already doing so should ensure that they read Andrew Bartlett’s blog during the final two weeks of this campaign. Senator Bartlett is in a tough fight for his (and his party’s) survival but he is continuing to post to his blog about how the major parties and the media are acting in this campaign. In doing so, he is not only making an argument for his own party’s values and demonstrating why the Democrats remain relevant, but he is clearly capturing the essence of what elections should be about. He is initiating a dialogue about the legitimate issues Australia needs to grapple with, and whether or not he succeeds in his own campaign, he should be appreciated and respected for doing so.


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Last night, Robert McClelland gave a speech that set out a clear distinction between Labor and Team Howard. By pledging that Labor would seek to form a coalition of abolitionist governments with the aim of eliminating capital punishment in Asia, he demonstrated that we could have an Australian government that is fundamentally committed to human rights, that provides leadership and constructive engagement with its neighbours, that recognises that its words and actions must be consistent with the values it purports to uphold, and that values Australia’s moral standing in the global community.

Kevin Rudd has willingly and intentionally dismantled that perception.

It is bad enough that we have Dennis Shanahan (or whoever wrote his headline) framing McClelland’s speech as a plea to save the Bali bombers. It is bad enough that we have Andrew Bolt claiming that “Saddam died so innocent Iraqis might live” and suggesting Labor turn to blocking abortions instead. And it is bad enough that we have Dolly Downer distorting McClelland’s proposal to suggest that he said the Australian government should plead for mercy in specific terrorism case.

That Rudd has taken the same line as Dolly and the Government sycophants in the media is disgusting. Not only has he distanced himself from the philosophy of meaning what we say and saying what we mean on capital punishment, he has undermined the credibility of his own spokesperson. Even if we set aside the fact that McClelland’s proposal was morally right and demonstrated genuine leadership, Rudd has managed to stoke the “me too” perceptions of his policy approach, handing fresh ammunition to his critics. Those who would have supported such a foreign policy approach (such as myself) are now angry that he has backed away from it to maintain the “small target” strategy; those who would oppose it can take potshots at Rudd and Labor for being terrorist sympathisers, flip-floppers and followers of Team Howard policy.

This is exactly the type of action that fosters concerns that Rudd’s Labor will stand for nothing. The alternative government needs to demonstrate that it will be better than the one we have now. I applaud Robert McClelland for attempting to do so.

ELSEWHERE: Tim Dunlop is equally disappointed in Rudd, and views it as “disgraceful election-eve back-pedalling.” Andrew Bartlett had already noted that there is a forum in Brisbane tonight for World Day Against the Death Penalty – a day Rudd must not be aware of, given his perception that it was “insensitive” to discuss this so close to the anniversary of the Bali bombing.

ELSEWHERE #2: Lefty Jeremy notes that Team Howard’s Captain has joined Rudd in the hypocrisy while still slamming Rudd. Congratulations, Kevin – you’ve wedged yourself.

ELSEWHERE #3: Tim Hollo has a good post about this on GreensBlog.

UPDATE: The SMH is running a poll on the death penalty. Get out the vote.

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Both Senator Bartlett and Tim Dunlop have commented on a Slate piece by Christopher Hitchens on China’s links to Burma (as well as Sudan). They both discussed Hitchens’ concluding paragraph:

Meanwhile, everybody is getting ready for the lovely time they will have at the Beijing Olympics. If there could be a single demand that would fuse almost all the human rights demands of the contemporary world into one, it would be the call to boycott or cancel this disgusting celebration.

While I wouldn’t want to dismiss such a notion out of hand, I can’t say I am convinced that (i) sporting boycotts are effective in general, or that (ii) a boycott of China’s Olympics would particularly trouble them. What is the intended effect of such an approach and by what mechanism is it expected to work? I just can’t see how sporting sanctions, unsupported by any other forms of pressure, are expected to sway the Chinese to either change their own approach to human and civil rights, or to press Burma to do the same. The response I can foresee would be, “Sorry you couldn’t make it, but thank you for the extra medals. We look forward to you continuing to buy our products.”

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Stifling debate

Andrew Bartlett has noted that this morning will see the last of the debate about the new laws for the Northern Territory intervention. The legislation will then pass the Senate without any amendments, because why would the Government consider any of the points made by minority parties (including Labor) who don’t have the votes to make a difference?

Unfortunately, taking constructive criticism on board is not something this Government is willing to do. Mal Brough and the Government will get exactly the legislation they wanted, with exactly the overreaching and unfettered powers they wanted. What’s more, after the flurry of media coverage of this “national emergency” when it was declared, very little attention is being paid by the media now that the detail has arrived and is being debated.

This is a pattern that the Government has put to good use. They engineered a solid public relations event: a report was released, it was seized on to declare a national emergency, they were supported in their rush to the moral high ground by community leaders (or at least one – Noel Pearson) who believed in their good intentions, and they held fast against anyone who raised concern. Several weeks later, Parliament resumes, and many other issues and non-issues grab the spotlight. Now, it becomes clear to anyone who looks that the link between the report and the action is tenuous at best, the supporters of the spirit of the actions question the approach to implementing it, but the story seems to be over as far as most of the media is concerned.

Senator Bartlett has quoted some of the Government comments about the Little Children are Sacred report that have come up in the Senate debate. They show the disregard that the Government has for the recommendations of that review – instead, they have used the report purely as a tool to justify their motivation, but the policy approach is entirely their own and in many ways is inconsistent with the recommendations of the review. This had already been made obvious through the way in which the report’s authors were omitted from consideration as the legislation was introduced for debate.

After initially presenting fairly solid support for the Government’s approach, Noel Pearson wrote last weekend about his concerns, particularly about the extent to which the Government was taking control and power beyond what was necessary or appropriate:

The bill that is before federal parliament is inelegant and imperfect, but the thrust of its purpose is not sinister. It is necessarily urgent, but it needs to be decisively improved in some crucial respects.

It is absolutely imperative that the provisions relating to the holding of town leases and the subsequent disposition of leases not be within the sole and arbitrary power of the federal Government. Rather, this should be the province of an entity that is comprised of representatives of indigenous landowners.

Brough has emerged as the most active indigenous affairs minister in the history of this portfolio. Many indigenous people will vigorously contest any suggestion that he may yet end up making the most positive contribution to this most precarious of policy issues for the benefit of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

The difference between disaster and success will depend on whether Brough and Howard will engage with Yunupingu and the traditional leaders of the NT on a way forward. It will be a grave mistake for the federal Government to be as intransigent to amendments to its bill as those who have opposed the intervention entirely.

The Government has used a PR strategy for this policy initiative that has stifled and muffled all debate. They drew intense focus to an acute crisis, when in fact they are dealing with chronic problems. Once the spotlight moved away, they brought forth the detail and used their majority in both houses to push it through. The media helps to enable this strategy, because they seem to feel they covered the issues when the intervention was first announced. They need to revisit the issues, highlight the debate, and note the gaps that are widening between the perceived supporters and the Government on this issue.

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Andrew Bartlett notes that the authors of the Little Children are Sacred report, which ostensibly drew the Government to declare a “national emergency” in indigenous child abuse, were not invited to give formal evidence before the Senate inquiry into the legislation. What’s more, the Liberal-controlled Senate has kept debate on both the NT intervention and the Murray-Darling takeover limited to a single day.

The lack of regard for the opinions of the report’s authors is probably not surprising since they have already indicated disappointment that they feel few (if any) of their recommendations have been addressed (see also here). It draws a striking parallel with the Bush administration’s response to the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report: acknowledge the value of the ostensibly independent report and the issues it highlights, but then ignore most of the suggestions (e.g., constructive engagement with Iran and Syria) and follow an entirely different approach (e.g., the troop surge and the escalated isolation of Iran) while claiming to be dealing with the important issue raised by the report. In other words, the report is used as a tool to justify taking action, but the specific recommendations of the report are ignored. The Government is happy to be told that action is needed and point to the report to demonstrate why they are acting, but they don’t want to follow any advice about how to act.

Unfortunately, the media seems to get caught up in reporting the detail of the policies that they don’t often point out the disparity between its origins and its implementation.

Of course, in Bush’s case, the ongoing problems in Iraq have started to shift him toward accepting the ISG recommendations more than six months later. In the case of the indigenous intervention, the Government may not have such an opportunity.

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You’ll never never know

unless you take the time to investigate the issues for yourself and report them to the public. Perhaps Kevin Rudd can take some lessons from Senator Bartlett in how to be an effective opposition – it doesn’t require “metooisms” or knee-jerk criticism, but careful investigation and analysis followed by serious discussion of the issues.

It’s a shame that so many minds in the public and the media seem to be closed to the Democrats at the moment – their values and their approach are still as solid as ever, but the GST affair has tended to taint the general perceptions of them.

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