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Obama postpones another Australian visit, hurting Rudd’s chances for re-election. Politics is odd down under, but can you admit to lying and get away with it? Australia loses two troops in one day, a first since Vietnam. Meanwhile, economic issues take centre stage – but can’t overshadow two huge sporting stories.
Top news: Like Barack Obama, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd could use a break. A holiday would be nice, but a lucky break of the political kind would be equally welcome. Alas for Rudd, Obama’s current political misery has attached itself to Rudd’s own current malaise, and the politics of the BP oil spill has robbed him of the desired fillip of a June visit from Obama, a boost that would have potentially been grand given the U.S leader’s popularity in Australia.
It’s the second time Obama has cancelled on the Aussie PM. The first was back in March when the President was in the final days of his health care war. But there’s little doubt this latest raincheck hurt Rudd more. After six months of political reverses, a recent and respected opinion poll has for the first time suggested that he is not only fading in public esteem, he is now on course to lose this year’s national election in a landslide, if the poll numbers are to be believed.
On the surface, it’s hard to see why. Political leaders around the world would kill for the sort of economic figures Rudd can trumpet, having expertly guided Australia through the global financial crisis. But the PM has backflipped on important issues, most significantly, his pledge to do something about climate change, which he once described as “the greatest moral challenge of our time.” The polls suggest voters are starting to wonder whether they can believe a word he says.
Fortunately for Rudd, the electorate seems less than convinced by the alternative, Tony Abbott, the leader of the conservative opposition, who has his own credibility problems. Abbott told a TV interviewer that he has two standards for truth telling: the words that come out of his mouth in a considered policy speech, and those that emerged in more heated moments like pressured interviews or parliamentary debates. One version, Abbott said, was likely to be less than the “gospel truth.” It was a gaffe that might haunt him – and save Rudd – come campaign time later in the year.
There was another Obama-related headache for both sides of politics last week: what to do about Afghanistan? The issue came to the forefront of national debate when two Australian soldiers were among 10 troops killed in the war’s deadliest day in months. Australia has been in Afghanistan since the beginning nine years ago, but has avoided terrible days like this one. The nation had not lost two troops in battle on the same day since Vietnam. The deaths inflamed debate over why the Army is still engaged in a war that now seems without end.
In Middle East news, when the Israeli military raided the Gaza aid flotilla, two prominent Aussie journalists were aboard, and there were some anxious hours waiting for word that they were safe. In the end, they were. Paul McGeough and photo journalist Kate Geraghty were detained by the Israelis before finally being freed, with themselves and their global scoop intact, three days later.
Money: It no doubt seemed a slam-dunk: soak the rich. But PM Rudd’s plan to impose a “super profits tax” on the mining companies that have banked billions thanks to Australia’s decade-long resources boom has not played out as he hoped. The corporate giants have fought back with a ferocious public campaign accusing the government of an attempt to nationalise the mines. One company, Xstrata, dumped a major project, claiming the new tax made it unviable. Rudd’s Treasurer got into trouble for first claiming the tax would have no impact on the markets, but privately justifying a publicly-funded ad campaign by saying it would.
Australians are discovering that when it comes to the financial markets, nothing ever goes as planned. Not so long ago analysts predicted the Aussie dollar might top the US dollar in value. Now? Not so much. The currency has plummeted. After recently nudging parity with the greenback, it has now fallen back to the equivalent of US83.25 cents. Great for exporters; bad for overseas travellers, and for consumers who had enjoyed the lower prices attached to imported goods.
Elsewhere: There’s an old joke that Australians will bet on two flies climbing up a wall, and it’s not far from the truth. This nation loves its sport, and particularly its winners, especially when the winner in question can be deemed an underdog, thus fitting in with the national image of itself as a small fry punching above its weight. At the French Open in Paris, tennis journeywoman Samantha Stosur fit the bill, knocking off the higher ranked Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic en route to the final.
Once there, she was widely tipped to claim her first Grand Slam title over the even less likely finalist, Italian Francesca Schiavone. But Stosur lost, and the nation sighed. Little wonder; it had been a long time between drinks. The last Aussie woman to win a Grand Slam was Evonne Cawley at Wimbledon 30 years ago. The last to win in Paris was Margaret Court, 37 years ago. Consolation? Court is still history’s world-beater, holding 24 Grand Slam singles titles, six ahead of nearest historical rival, Martina Navratilova.
Now Australian sporting minds turn to South Africa, where the national team the Socceroos will once again take underdog status in the World Cup. Odds of success? Tiny. But that’s the way they like it Down Under.