Friday, June 6, 2008

Big Picture Politics Has Pitfalls

Is Kevin Rudd a grand visionary, or a master of the grand gesture? The proposal to build an Asia Pacific Community for future prosperity and security has caught people by surprise, and prompted a barrage of criticism for a range of reasons. Firstly, it appears to have been put together in a hurry, with the man appointed to head the program, Richard Woolcott, informed only hours before the announcement. Foreign governments were apparently given a heads up, but were left in the dark as to any detail. The concern is that it might be because there isn’t any.

Secondly, Kevin Rudd made specific reference to the European Union, which is a structure which has taken 60 odd years to develop after World War Two. Critics, including former Prime Ministers Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, have pointed out that European nations have handed over a chunk of their sovereignty to an over-arching level of government which has its own parliament and makes its own laws. Within the EU it’s as if national borders no longer exist, and a single labour market means workers can move about the continent competing for each other’s jobs. Imagine that happening here and having Australians competing directly for work against Indians on $2 an hour.

Of course, Kevin Rudd never said anything about giving an Asia Pacific Community EU style legislative abilities. But having made the reference, it has become the inevitable comparison. In the haste to make a grand statement prior to his visit to Japan, it appears the announcement has been made without the benefit of any in depth planning or consultation. Judging by what the Prime Minister has actually said, and not by what others have inferred, the idea is a constructive effort to promote regional security and prosperity. The trouble is that without the benefit of detail, others have filled in the blanks and drawn the conclusion that this is ad hoc policy making on the run, and has the potential to become an embarrassment.

It seems Kevin Rudd wants to be seen as a visionary leader. Well, that’s fine, but other visionary leaders of the Labor party such as Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating quickly found that voters get tired of big ideas when the little details of ordinary life are hurting them.

Right now, Australians are wondering about the promise to make life easier for working families who have trouble paying for their petrol and their groceries.

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