mr. zilla goes to town

Friday, September 24, 2004

inexpert expats

Thanks to a tip off from Tim Dunlop last night I ducked up the street after work to the Brookings Institution for a panel discussion on the Australian election.

I was a little disappointed with the panelling to begin with, I was hoping to hear some thoughts on the election back home filtered through American perceptions. To some degree the Brookings host Thomas Mann provided this element and I'll come back to this however three Australian panelists weren't much chop. It was only moderately interesting, but at least they were disagreeable.

Phil Coorey, a News Ltd correspondent out of New York put forward that the oz election was being fought on (hip pocket) domestic issues - the likelihood of increasing interest rates combined with high household debt exposure bringing economic management to the fore, but also health and education policies being key components of the debate. Walking out the door afterward though I regretted missing the chance to stir him up about Murdoch editorial policies pre/post Latham's declaration to bring the troops home by Xmas.

Rod Lyon, a strategic studies boffin over on a Fulbright, tended to wander in verbal circles, said that security issues haven't been as important in a generation as in 01/04, but didn't provide a convincing engagement with the election much beyond a smug announcement that he expected Howard to be returned, or counterargument to Coorey that much of the electorate are actually going to vote on the basis of security issues this time around.

"Doddering daiquiri diplomat" Alison Broinowski was perhaps the most entertaining speaker, if unwittingly, drawing occasional smirks from Coorey and beet-red flushing from Lyon. Unfortunately (and Tim D goes into some detail on this) she often also came across as less considered than the mere Murdoch hack and slightly shrill. I'm as lefty as the next person with enough brain cells to rub together to recognize the stinking pile of ideologically blinkered foreign policy incompetence we've been dropped in, but Broinowski had me flashing back to numerous undergrad polsci tutorials at ANU where you shrink into your seat at the ramblings sans reality of earnest campus lefties. Unalloyed praise for activist/journalist Margo Kingston doesn't sit too well with me either, nor did her somewhat preciously referring to the 43 signatories (including herself) being described as "the immortals" by some. For goodness sake.

Broinowski argued that Iraq and foreign policy were key elements within the campaign albeit indirectly, submerged within a general theme of the (non) trustworthiness of Howard. However if I recall the polling on the issue correctly, in the wake of Scrafton's revelations of conversations about unthrown children, the electorate didn't seem to care a great deal. Prosperity doesn't necessarily make the electorate post-materialist. I get the sense from the discussion and the papers online that Howard is certainly on the nose back home, I guess the question is whether the punters will hold theirs, or just blow them into ballot paper in lieu of a kleenex.
Rounding out, Brookings host Thomas Mann did well to provide the American perspective I was hoping to hear, sounding out to locate differences between Howard and Bush, for example the high-taxing man of steel and his tax cutting sheriff over here.

Also there was little disagreement that even if a Latham / Bush combination eventuated there would be no real damage to the Alliance relationship. Mann made the good observation that should Bush be returned, he needs to hold on to his few remaining friends around the world. I'd say, this situation might see Latham with a freer hand to withdraw the troops than were Kerry to be elected and need to show his ability to multilateralize the Iraq fracas.

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