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The radicalisation of gentle men and women

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 26 February 2010


Whatever other influences helped shape Kevin Rudd, his time as a diplomat clearly had a major influence.

Kevin can talk. I wouldn’t say he mastered use of the English language, rather he mastered the art of talking and saying nothing, which is a basic tool of diplomacy. He learnt the art of gift giving and use of the media to gain maximum impact and as a representative of a middle ranking power, the art of spin.

He mastered the complexities of creating castles in the air with a match box in his pocket. He learnt the dangers of delegation to self promotion and the need to appear busy. He learnt that management by crisis kept criticism at bay. But above all he learnt that appearance and presentation enhanced success. As difficult as it was initially he learnt how to become a member of an elite and he has not forgotten.

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It was drummed into him to keep every door open, to never discard an option or close an opening; matters of fact and substance to be avoided unless advantage is sought from rival or opponent.

Conservative and risk averse, the department of foreign affairs impressed upon him the need for distance; objectivity can only be achieved through dispassionate appraisal of a problem or handling of difficult issues.

He threw that advice to the wind when he apologised to the Stolen Generation, but it was only a temporary aberration. He is firmly back on track and as evidence we need look no further than his treatment of asylum seekers.

Rudd’s desire to get some quick (and easy) kudos from his aid program to the Australian people in the form of ceiling insulation has badly backfired, damaging his government, himself and the minister notionally responsible.

The episode demonstrates how lacking in common sense and the practical arts is this government. Why did no one in cabinet ask the basic questions concerning delivery of the program? Rudd wants to be hands on without knowing how to drive.

Rudd talks the talk about Afghanistan, but the war is unwinnable in the American sense of winning wars. Bombing civilians creates more supporters of the Taliban both in Afghanistan and abroad. It creates more opponents of the United States military and foreign policy in exactly the same way that Israel’s invasion of Gaza and the resulting deaths of innocents created more opposition to Israel. It is not difficult to understand, yet it seems to be for Kevin Rudd.

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Australian departments and agencies have been dealing with issues relating to terrorism for the last four decades. For Rudd to try and beat up the issue at this time is little more than a diversion.

He understands nothing about the conservation and delivery of water and yet has muzzled Penny Wong to the extent that her pronouncements on the subject as the putative minister for water are mean and meaningless.

Water cannot and should not be sold. The licence system is not working; it will not and cannot deliver. Access to potable water is the right of every citizen. It is the responsibility of government to protect that right and to deliver water for the sustenance of life, sustainable agriculture and industry in that order.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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