Just when it was hoped that a change of leader might bring a less opportunistic approach to opposition than did Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull outdoes his predecessor by turning up the heat on Kevin Rudd about his visit to the US.
We all know why Rudd is going – to speak to the UN about Australian membership of the Security Council and climate change, and now that global markets are in turmoil, to consult with many of the 100 heads of government that will be in New York for three days where the number one topic will be the content of a further global response to the financial crisis. We know he plans to have formal bilateral meetings with more than a dozen of these world leaders, and informal meetings with another ten to fifteen. He plans to have contact with US President George W Bush and key financial figures, and take part in a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting on reform of financial regulation. All in three days.
Turnbull knows what is planned, but calls the whole trip “a waste of time”. We have the spectacle of him making a scathing attack on Rudd insisting he should stay at home and deal with the ramifications here of the global financial meltdown. He doesn’t give a clue as to what he would actually be in a position to do here in Australia over and above what has already been done, is being done hour by hour by the regulatory authorities APRA and ASIC, the Reserve Bank and the Stock Exchange, and what his Treasurer could do during his absence if necessary. Turnbull knows he’s talking gibberish, but that doesn’t faze him so long as he can score a political point or two.
Turnbull can tell you where Rudd has been, how many trips he has made and how many days he has been overseas, all critically important facts his people have ferreted out. He asserts that he has been overseas more than any other PM or his own Foreign Minister, both of which are incorrect. By why worry about factual accuracy. "Have we elected a prime minister or a prime tourist?" he asked with scorn on the Nine Network on Sunday. While he conceded that overseas trips and personal contact with world leaders were important, he insisted Rudd was “overdoing it”. He’s chuffed with his new slogan ‘747 Kevin’, his suggestion for a T shirt logo with ‘where the bloody hell are you’ on the back.
He mockingly enlightened Rudd: "There is such a thing as the telephone". But Turnbull insisted he needed a face-to-face meeting with finance officials in the US in April; presumably a telephone was not sufficient for him. He quips: "Just because you're sitting on an aeroplane flying to New York doesn't mean you're doing anything", and accuses Rudd of "mistaking motion for action". His insists “his travelling is extraordinary and so early in his term - he seems to be constantly on an aeroplane." All very amusing stuff if the world was not embroiled in such a global financial crisis that threatens this country as part of the global economy. [more]
He even went so far as to accuse Rudd of confusing the Stock Exchange with the new ban on short selling, to accommodate which the Exchange opened late on the first day short selling was banned. Of course the confusion and delay must have been due to Rudd’s and Swan’s indecision and incompetence, as Turnbull insists. What other explanation could there possibly be?
In the Senate, Senator Coonan, newly elevated to Shadow Foreign Minister, asked why Rudd wasn’t staying at home “to give attention to the needs of pensioners”, presumably to debate the Coalition-sponsored private member’s bill introduced by her into the Senate to raise the single pension by $30 per week. It gets even more ridiculous. Another Senator asked if was it true that Rudd was intending to cut his visit short to get home in time for the AFL Grand Final. The US meetings are scheduled for just three days, why would he not come home when they were over?
This childish behaviour does not befit grown men and women, our elected representatives, who ought to have the maturity and commonsense to acknowledge the gravity of the global crisis for us all, and applaud the PM for making the trip to the US to represent our country’s interests, to participate in critically important discussions on the financial crisis, and to advance Australia’s place as a middle order power. The electorate would be rightly incensed if he didn’t go.
So do we want our PM to travel overseas? You judge whether you want a PM that is prepared to represent Australia’s interests in international circles, who gives Australia exposure, who enhances our position and status, or would you prefer a PM that stays at home minding the shop, as Turnbull believes he should?
What a sad thing it is when blatant political opportunism overrides the national interest, when points-scoring takes precedence over even-handed discourse among all our elected representatives about the most serious financial crisis we have faced for decades. Does the Opposition really believe that the average swinging punter, whose vote they need to gain office, will swallow this self-indulgent behaviour?
Hopes for a less opportunistic line of attack from Turnbull, a more statesman-like approach to deadly serious matters, have been dashed after just one week. Under the opportunistic Nelson the Opposition was pitiable; it looks as if nothing’s changed under Turnbull. Oh dear!
UPDATE 24 September 2008
After just 24 hours in New York, the PM has already had several meetings - with the President of the World Bank and officials from the world of finance - that allowed him to reassure Australians that our banking system is strong and resilient in the face of the international financial crisis.
He has also attended the opening of the UN General assembly. Tim Costello has underscored how essential it is that Rudd be in New York at this time when discussions on world poverty are taking place. He added that it would look very bad if Rudd had absented himself.
But all this hasn’t inhibited Caroline Overington in her blog in the 24 September issue of The Australian from poking fun at Rudd and his visit. If you want to see the standard to which she has taken that newspaper with this piece, take a look at Hog heaven
It would be interesting to hear what Malcolm Turnbull feels about Rudd’s visit now. Would he still categorize it as “a waste of time”?