I was recently asked to wax prophetic about Australia’s new government for a new British site called International Relations. Below is my stab at it. I am sure that many of my fellow Australian conservatives will accuse me of being a Pollyanna but time will tell
The new Rudd government in Australia is not a new phenomenon. I don’t think it is any secret that Tony Blair learnt much of his centre-Leftism from Australian centre-Leftists like Bob Hawke. Like Blair, Hawke made rather a mess of his country in some ways but the overall outcome was positive — particularly in the area of much-needed market-based economic reforms. Hawke was to a degree Australia’s Margaret Thatcher. And in foreign policy Hawke was sound too: Pro-US and pro-Israel.
If there were any doubt that Rudd will be walking in Hawke’s footsteps, perhaps what he campaigned on to get himself elected will be instructive: To almost all the policies of the long-lived conservative administration of John Howard, Rudd simply said: “Me too” (“I also”?).
It is true that Rudd has a committment to remove Australian combat trops from Iraq but who does that remind you of? It reminds me of a man whose surname would be pronounced in his native Scotland as “Broon”. And the Americans are also now of course on the brink of phasing down in Iraq.
And the Australian withdrawal will certainly be less precipitate than the British one. Discussions between Rudd and the U.S. administration have apparently been cordial and there is little doubt that the actual withdrawal date will depend on the circumstances on the ground in Iraq. Rudd has expressed some concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people after the Western withdrawal and it would appear that such a concern will have more weight with him than it apparently did with the British.
I think that the major realistic concern that Australian conservatives should have about Rudd is which way he will go with judicial appointments. Australia’s High Court has been notably more conservative than the U.S. Supreme Court. Labor Party State governments have appointed some remarkably incompetent women to judicial office in the name of affirmative action (I beg forgiveness for being too cautious to name names) so it remains to be seen whether or not Rudd too will go down that path with the High Court.
But in foreign policy there is no doubt that there will be only micro-changes in direction. Rudd has emphasized that he wants to be more than a one-term Prime Minisiter and to achieve that he has to respect the strong conservative tendencies of the Australian electorate. He will be mindful that he got elected by adopting the conservative policies of John Howard.
And it was his policies that were the foundation of Howard’s long stay in office. No one would accuse John Howard of having any charisma so there can be nothing else that got him elected several times. Rudd’s only advantage is that he does have some charisma. But charisma gets you only so far and the hard-working bureaucrat that is Kevin Rudd will not be relying on it at all.
Posted by John Ray