Friday, March 27, 2009

The Dog Whistle: The last refuge of a Souless Party

The last couple days has reinforced in my mind why I despise the Liberal Party so greatly: when they are in trouble they always (well at least since John Howard took charge) try to appeal to the basest beliefs. Pauline Hanson may have lost in her attempt to win a seat at last weekend's Queensland election, but never fear, the Liberal Party of Australia will continue to advocate her policies.

For you see, according to the Liberal Party, the turmoil that Defence Minster Joel Fitzgibbon is in at the moment isn't one of Ministerial accountability (little wonder - the Liberals wouldn't know how to spell that phrase); nope it's all about one thing - China.

Yesterday, the Fairfax papers revealed that some rogue officials in the Department of Defence had hacked into Fitzgibbon's Ministerial office computer and then leaked information about his relationship with a Chinese-Australian businesswoman Helen Liu. Fitzgibbon has known Liu for 16 years, so it's hardly a big secret - especially when he rents a house from her when he stays in Canberra during sitting weeks. No one is suggesting she is a spy, no one is suggesting Fitzgibbon has been giving her secret intelligence, no one is suggesting Fitzgibbon has done anything improper at all with her.

The story is a corker - not the Chinese businesswoman aspect - but that someone in the DoD would spy on the Minister is beyond astonishing. It suggests at the very least that there are some seriously rogue elements in the Department.

It was then revealed (by Fitzgibbon himself) that Liu had paid for two trips to China taken by Fitzgibbon in 2002 and 2005 when he was in opposition. Once again that she paid for them is no big deal at all - all members of opposition rely on sponsors for overseas travel. The big deal is that he failed to declare this to parliament - a very poor mistake, and Rudd is right to be very angry. Sackable? Hmm perhaps, but not for mine - after all it happened well before he was in Government let alone a Minister. But still it is definitely his last chance, and he probably can expect to go in a future reshuffle.

But does the Liberal Party care about that? Nope all they care about is China.

Here's the warm up - a story fed by Joe Hockey to Steven Lewis for this morning's papers:

CHINA is secretly helping to bankroll Kevin Rudd's economic rescue plan, as concerns grow over the relationship with the Communist superpower.

A Herald Sun investigation has confirmed China is a significant investor in Australian Government bonds -- used to fund billions of dollars in emergency spending.

The Opposition fears Australia could end up politically "handcuffed" to the Asian powerhouse as a result.

The revelation comes just days after the Prime Minister secretly met China's fifth-most powerful figure, Li Changchun, at The Lodge.

Mr Rudd is also arguing for a stronger role for China in global affairs during his visit to the US and Britain.

Last night, the Coalition warned that the emergence of China as a major lender needed to be weighed against the national interest. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said: "If it appears that a foreign government is the largest lender to Australia, then ultimately that weighs heavily on the national interest.

"We welcome foreign investment, but not handcuffed to political interests," he said.

I bet you welcome foreign investment, Joe - after all China funded the economic boom which made one of the most economically lazy and incompetent Governments look like it had created jobs (NB - the Howard Govt did not do ONE policy that helped cause the mining boom - I challenge you to come up with one).

Then it was followed up by Hockey on Sunrise this morning in his regular Friday debate with Anthony Albanese:

JOE HOCKEY: I'm concerned about, you know, the pattern of behaviour at the moment. Kevin Rudd received free trips when he was in Opposition, from Chinese interests. Wayne Swan the Treasurer received these trips; Tony Burke the Agriculture Minister.

Now we hear about the Defence Minister receiving free trips from China. At the same time, we learn today that the Australian Government is borrowing around $500-million a week from the Chinese Government.

What's going on? Why would the Defence Department be investigating the Defence Minister for his links with China?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think the concern there is Joe ringing the old bell about the red hordes coming down...

JOE HOCKEY: No, no mate, not at all. Not at all.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The truth is that Joel Fitzgibbon has made a mistake in not declaring these trips. He's 'fessed up, he's apologised. He did the wrong thing. Sometimes when that happens, the right thing to do is to come out and 'fess up, and say that that is the case. He's done that.

JOE HOCKEY: I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. And you know, then we discover that Kevin Rudd had a meeting with the Chinese Propaganda Minister and didn't tell the Australian media.


JOE HOCKEY: I mean, what's going on?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What, so he's supposed to have a media conference every time...

JOE HOCKEY: The Prime Minister, the Prime Minister's now the chief advocate for China entering into the G20?

I used to have some respect for Hockey - thought he would be ok once he got out from under Howard's spell. But no more. I hope his career is mired in disappointment.

Oh, of course he's not ringing the bell about the red hoards coming down, no, no mate, not at all... Like hell he's not. When he's on Sunrise, Hockey is all "mate... mate" and "concerned", and pretty much week in week out he sprouts populist tripe that is straight from the Hanson song sheet.

Pattern of behaviour? First up all of those trips had been declared - there was NO IMPROPRIETY - it was standard business. Then he makes mention of his story about China buying government bonds - who should be buying them - does he suggest that?

Then he makes the spurious allegation that the DoD is investigating Fitzgibbon - it's not - some unauthorised officials (who are most likely soon to be sacked and possibly up on charges) took it upon themselves to snoop on the Minister because... well who knows why - probably because they don't like the Minister or the Government, but it most certainly was not the DoD "investigating" the Minister.

Then he mentions Rudd meeting the Chinese propaganda minister - I guess Rudd should have turned him down. And now according to Joe, Rudd is "the chief advocate for China entering the G20". Though of course Joe doesn't actually say why that would be a bad thing - because he can't, he knows it would be a great thing for Australia (not to mention totally sensible given the size of the Chinese economy).

All Joe cares about is making sure the Sunrise audience knows something's going on with China - he's not suggesting anything; he's just "concerned" - or being what on political blogs is called a "concern troll" - for eg someone who goes on a blog pretending to be an ALP supporter and writes things like "I've always supported Kevin Rudd, but I'm concerned that all these visits to China suggest impropriety; if this keeps up I think he really should think about resigning if only for the good of the ALP".

So is Joe acting alone? Of course not; enter the leader, Malcolm Turnbull ever ready to sell his soul to the ghost of Howard if it means he'll keep his miserable little grip on the leadership for a few more weeks. Here he is on radio national today:

Mr Turnbull says the Prime Minister has spent more time talking to the US media about China, than Australia."He seems to be more like a travelling advocate for China as opposed to Australia. Now, he's not a roving ambassador for the People's Republic of China, he's the Prime Minister of Australia and he's got to put our national interest first."

I used to have respect for Turnbull -thought he could be a good leader once he got out from under Howard's thumb. But no more. I swear he would say 'God Save the Queen' is his favourite song if it meant he got another vote. I hope he survives as leader till the next election so I can see him lose. And lose by a lot.

Now obviously Turnbull (and probably Hockey) doesn't worry about China's influence on Australia - after all the Libs loved China when it was handing money to us hand over fist - and say what you like about Turnbull, he is a decent person. Which makes it all the more damnable when he plays this line. All he and Joe are doing is playing the old "Yellow peril" gambit. They hope to appeal to those who are suspicious that Kevin Rudd speaks Mandarin - the type who call him Chairman KRudd. Here's the problem though Malcolm - those people already vote Liberal. They should remember 65% of the population think Rudd's doing a good job - and you don't win votes by telling them they're wrong.

Turnbull's and Hockey's belief that Rudd is being a champion for China overseas is based on Rudd's interview on the Jim Lehrer News Hour. It is a very respected news show that certainly doesn't go for the "gotcha" style journalism on commercial networks. The interview was lengthy and informative. Here's part of what Rudd said about China:

JIM LEHRER: In a more general way -- I mean, you are a China hand, as a professional diplomat, you speak Mandarin Chinese -- should China -- what would be your advice to Americans as to how they should view China now, as a competitor, as a potential ally, as an enemy, as a potential problem? What is it? What's China represent -- should represent to the average American? Put it in any terms you want to.

KEVIN RUDD: Jim, I think China represents a huge opportunity for us all for the 21st century. The numbers speak for themselves. The center of global economic gravity is moving to the Asia Pacific region in the 21st century. And so what's happening in China, we see it also with India and you also see it with many other economies in the region, in Southeast Asia, Indonesia. But China is big. And, of course, the continued strength of Japan, as well.

Therefore, when you look at China in the future, I don't think anything's to be served by simply assuming it's all going to go bad. I think the challenge is this - and our friends in America to do the same - work with us in integrating China into the institutions of global governance, on the political side, on the security side, also on the economic side through, for example, the G-20, and also integrate them front and center in the great challenge of climate change, as well.

Now just stop right there. Look at that last sentence - does that sound like anything that is against Australia's interests? Or does it sound like the exact thing that an Australian Prime Minister should be saying when asked about China?

He continued:
If you engender that sort of environment, then you enable China to do -- as the head of the World Bank, Bob Zoellick, once said -- for China to play the role of a responsible global stakeholder.

Now, if China was to turn its back on that or not be responsible, the world would soon know. But I think the smart course of action for us all is to involve them.

They're not perfect. They've done some bad things in the past. But let's look at the opportunities, rather than simply assume it's all threat and all risk.

First off, Rudd talked about China because he was asked. And he then talked about how the West - America and Australia in particular could benefit from China. All exactly what he should be doing. And just as an aside - how great it is to have a PM, who when in the USA, is considered by the government and the media to be an expert on international relations with the biggest nation on earth?

Here's what he said about China being in the G20:

KEVIN RUDD: Right now we're trying to deal responsibly, globally, with this global recession, through the G-20. Now, what's the G-20? It includes 20 of the largest economies in the world, a few exceptions. But it's got some representativeness to it, because together they represent about 80 percent or 90 percent of global GDP.

But it's also a small enough body that you can actually get together and broker some decisions politically. And in the past, a lot of our international institutions have broken down because an agreement couldn't be reached.

Now, China is a player in the G-20. And, therefore, when we look at one of the decisions we're going to have to make soon, when is the reform of the International Monetary Fund, China will be expected to step up to the plate and put more resources into the fund.

But China right now, its voting rights within that fund are the equivalent of Belgium and the Netherlands. I think you've got to change that so that China has a bigger place at the table, rightly, but also that the world can then draw upon the resources which China puts responsibly into an international financial institution.

If anyone can tell me why China should be treated as economically equal to Belgium, I'll buy you a bright shiny membership to the Liberal Party (though no doubt you'll all ready have one...). Also once again, Rudd talks in terms of getting China involved so it can be used by the west - ie if you give China a bit more of a say at the table, then you can also demand China stump up more cash, do more trade favourable policies etc etc.

It's all freaking common sense; and good international policy.

It doesn't mean letting China own every mine in Australia (and Swan has tonight just turned down the Chinese $2.6b bid for Oz Minerals); it does mean treating them with some respect and not saying thanks for all your money when times are good, but when our polls are down we're going to treat you with suspicion, and try and whip up some fear.

Hockey and Turnbull should be focusing purely on Fitzgibbon - he's a chance to be sacked (or to resign), and Greg Combet should at the very least be keeping his mobile phone handy in case a call from the Lodge comes.

Talking about "China" as though we should be any more concerned about that country as we should when USA companies pay for trips and lunches for Ministers is not helpful for future relations with China when things do again come good. Forget the conspiracy theories. China didn't take Harold Holt in a submarine, and Kevin Rudd is not a Chinese plant.

And hey, at least China hasn't asked us to go off and fight a pointless war in Iraq that was so counterproductive to the war in Afghanistan that now 7 years later the whole thing is bogged down in crap. If that were the case then we'd really have something to worry about.

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