Mungo MacCallum- Political Corrections

Poor old Kimbo no man of the people

You have to feel sorry for Kim Beazley.

Just as the polls are reviving the old doubts about whether he is actually getting through to the electorate, he makes another of those silly gaffes perhaps they should be called kimboisms.

On hearing the name Rove, his mind leaps not to the popular television entertainer whose wifes early death has been in the news all week, but to a discredited American backroom politician. Given his preoccupations the slip was entirely explicable, understandable and excusable and quite possibly fatal.

It suggests, yet again, that Beazley suffers from that most damnable of all political sins: He is Out of Touch with Ordinary Australians. He lives in a rarefied world which is not relieved by the normal pursuits of the footy, the pub and above all the telly. How, then, can he claim leadership of the party of the common man (and woman)? Who, and what, does he really stand for? And how can you trust him to face up to that quintessentially commonplace figure whose very name confirms his ordinariness, John (forget the Winston) Howard?

It has been frequently said of Beazley (by me, among others) that people like him and admire him, but they just dont see him as a leader. But thats not the whole problem; one of the reasons the punters find it hard to give him whole-hearted support is that they really cant identify with him. His concerns are not their concerns.

This has been true of other leaders of course Gough Whitlams perceived persona was about as far removed from that of the man in the street as it was possible to be without a total genetic makeover. But what Whitlam lacked in immediate empathy he made up in conviction, boldness and clarity. These are three qualities which, alas, Beazley seems unable to master.

For this reason alone the doubts about whether the two-time loser can out-perform the master rodent this time around are well-founded; but for the same reason talk of replacing him with Kevin Rudd owes more to desperation than logic.

Ill confess to warming to Rudd in recent weeks; I have previously dismissed him as an unctuous, effete, smart-arse God-botherer, but am now prepared to admit that beneath this unappealing facade there lurks a politician of substance. His writings, particularly two essays in The Monthly, reveal both intellect and passion, a fire in the brain and in the belly that are often sadly missing in todays Labor Party.

As a parliamentary tactician he seldom puts a foot wrong and can master a complex brief with ease his demolition of Alexander Downer over the wheat-for-weapons scandal has been masterly, even given the fact that Downer has always been a relatively soft target. No wonder Downer appears nervous about the prospect of Rudd becoming opposition leader, a post Downer himself once filled with a breathtaking lack of distinction. He appears likely to overcome the handicap of never having held ministerial rank far more easily than his opposite number ever did.

But having said all that, Rudd still shares most of Beazleys setbacks about relating to the electorate. Whether he could develop the common touch throw the switch to vaudeville, as Paul Keating memorably put it in time for the next election must be doubtful.

But he would be wise to start practising. Beazley and his supporters are still determined, but the swell of unease in the ranks both inside and outside caucus is building up. His next kimboism could be his last.

It has been a week that has seen the Australian Government in international stage-strutting mode.

In Hanoi at the APEC summit our Dear Leader, resplendent in a blue silk dress (the same shade as Georges, of course) spared no-one in his denunciations of North Korea and his pleas to restart the Doha round of trade talks, and even if the rhetoric didnt actually achieve much, at least it made headlines at home.

(Although none as memorable as the Sydney Morning Heralds breathless revelation: Youre wrong on Iraq Rice blasts Labor. The Secretary of State actually defends official Washington policy well, who would have thought it.)

In Melbourne Peter Costello hosted the G20, a talkfest for bankers and finance ministers marred less by crazed demonstrators than by his brother Tims stringent and salient criticisms.

And in Nairobi, at the World Climate Change Conference, our fearless Environment Minister Ian Campbell was allowed to look on as the rest of the world dismissed his and his countrys position as selfish, parochial and irrelevant.

During coffee breaks, the only time he was allowed to speak, Campbell bravely tried to interest some of the delegates in Howards vague plans for a new Kyoto. His press releases heroically claim that these approaches were received with muted expressions of delight; more objective observers talk of incomprehension and derision. But whatever the spin, the undeniable fact is that despite Howards boosting of his AP6 alternative, Australia (and its sole ally, the US) are now well and truly out of the loop and will remain so until they stop sulking and return to the mainstream.

This perhaps puts in perspective an incident at APEC, during which it was noted excitedly that George Bush not only had a private dinner together, but after that a private lunch as well. The dancing bears in both Washington and Canberra cheered at this illustration of the closeness, even the intimacy of the relationship. A more cynical explanation might be that no-one else wanted to talk to them.

Never mind, they still have each other. For a while, at least.

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