It’s a big week in Canberra, with both
the Government and the Opposition looking to finish strongly before the winter
recess.

Immigration will be a big issue for the
Government, with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone due to hold a third round
of talks with dissident backbenchers today.

The politics are tricky. This is more than
a debate about refugees. This is about Australia’s
relations with Indonesia. Important – but an area where there are very few votes. It was
sad to see Paul Keating still looking for a little love and understanding over
his 1995 treaty with Suharto in The Sunday Age
yesterday.

And there’s a lot of face for the PM
involved. We mightn’t like the way they operate, but the steps he has taken
since 2001 to halt illegal entry by boat have worked. A rebuff from his own
party will be embarrassing.

But IR’s going to be the big game – and
you’ve got to laugh. After all the frothing at the mouth this week from various News Limited commentators over what the
abolition of AWAs might mean,
Malcolm Farr states baldly in the Telegraphtoday: “the Government’s attitude is that a lot of people are going to get their wages
cut.” Yesterday, too, Glenn Milne was trotting out the line we’ve run for weeks on the Government’s weakness on this topic:

The ACTU’s
attack on AWAs is micro; Howard’s defence is macro. But in politics, it’s the
micro messages that cut through: the depiction of a worrying situation in which
you can see yourself.

Howard is
relying on statistics rather than people. And voters always dismiss statistics
as part of the white noise of politics.

Still, even then there’s a small silver
lining for the Government. Last week, in the wake of Labor’s AWA backflip,
Michelle Grattan observed:

Beazley has put
up in lights the difference between Labor and the Government. But this comes
with a bag of risks. He is being accused of flip-flopping, being economically
irresponsible, and acting as cat’s-paw of the unions…

Beazley is again
on trial. But then, he is perpetually on trial. Mainly this is because of the
general belief – among colleagues, commentators and the public – that he is
unlikely to win next year’s election.

Labor worries
about Beazley’s poor personal poll ratings and its weak prospects. But the
consensus remains that the party has to make the best of its leader, an old
political commodity but at least a known product. Given the doubts, it’s not
surprising that everything Beazley does is viewed through the leadership prism.

A disappointing AC Nielsen poll in the Fairfax broadsheets
today means the Opposition leader remains on struggle – and both Howard and Beazley
will be fighting fiercely to seize the ascendancy this week.

Peter Fray

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