Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

(Politically speaking) Things Can Only Get Better

John Howard (left), and a ridiculous looking baffoon in a suit (right).

Anyone being honest would admit that Australia is years behind the rest of the world on most things. And the political 'lag' seems to longest than any other - especially if the embarrassing voxpops about muslims that I saw on tv last night could be thought to be at all representative of wider opinions.

Think back to the UK General Election of 1997. A tired and unpopular right of centre government, who had been in power for longer than anyone cared to remember got thumped by a younger, fresher opposition determined to prove that they not only held the moral high-ground on the key political issues of the day, but could be trusted to be both competent and reinvigorating for the country.

Well something similar has just happened here in Australia.

After 11 years as PM, Johnny (laughing-boy) Howard has finally been thrown out by the Labour party's new leader Kevin Rudd. Howard even lost his seat. I find it hard to feel any sympathy. As with Tony Blair, the Liberal Party (of which JH is leader) issues that I had most problems with were the big foreign policy ones.

Johnny was even further out of touch with people than TB. Not only did he whole-heartedly and faithfully (what's smaller and more timid than a poodle?) follow George W, but he also refused to sign the Kyoto protocol. Yes, until yesterday, there were only two countries in the world that continued to refuse to ratify that treaty - the US and Australia. (Kevin Rudd gave notice that he would ratify the treaty on his first day as leader.)

Just as bad in my eyes, though seemingly not quite as objectionable to many Aussie voters was his policy on asylum seekers. Before the last election, the Liberals promoted a story that asylum seekers trying to enter Australia by boat had been throwing their children overboard. After the election it turned out to be untrue. It's quite amazing to listen to some of the Liberal party's policies and statements on asylum and immigration. I'd like to hope that this was part of the reason he was voted out. But in fact, Labour's policies aren't too far different. I guess this is an area where Australia really does have a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the world.

Having hardly spent any time in Australia in the last ten years, its probably rather bold of me to make the following assertion but I have to say that, in my opinion, John Howard has been an unfortunate albatross around the necks of the Australia people, dragging down the country’s international reputation and weakening its previously proud national psyche. This is, of course, to say nothing of domestic policies, though I've read nothing in the press here to persuade me that he's done anything particularly laudable there either. But don’t take my word for it. This Guardian article is a better written - and probably more balanced - assessment of Australia’s recent political history:,,2217015,00.html

So what next? As with ‘97, there is some concern that the incoming government – with a set of largely indistinguishable policies – will struggle to improve on the previous government’s record. But then, Tony Blair’s government were fresh, effective and a force for good reinvigorating politics… until Iraq.
Kevin Rudd: Do you think he's trying to get a subtle message across in this picture?

As with Blair in 97, I think most people will be wishing Rudd all the best. He's looking to get off to a flyer and I hope he can really turn the country and its reputation around.

So why the sudden obsession with politics? Well aside from the pageantry around Beckham's visit there has been little else in the news here last week.

Personally the big news is - drum roll - that I've started work. After 15 months out of paid employment (yes, really, who'd have thought it!), this travelling slacker is once again working 9 to 5.

So far I'm very excited about the job. I'll be working mainly on an impact assessment methodology for Opportunity International and there's plenty to get stuck into. It's been very easy to get started as everyone has been so welcoming and most people are familiar from my voluntary stint earlier in the year. I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about work in future months, particularly visits to our partners in India. The first trip should be in January and I can't wait.

I'm not looking for sympathy (before the house-bricks start flying!) but adjusting to working every day has been tough. Concentrating eight or more hours a day has been very tiring. I even had to have an early night last Thursday. Hahaha! And on that note...

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