How many U-turns does it take for an Australian Prime Minister to be re-elected? Two, and both of them – Iraq and climate change – are now in full progress. Prepare for more bumps, not to mention embarrassment and even humiliation, as these inelegant turns are completed in time for the run-up to next year’s federal election.

Iraq policy is out of the hands of the Australian government. As The New York Times reported yesterday: 

The Bush administration, slowly acknowledging that the situation in Iraq is untenable, is drawing up a detailed new plan to hand over ever-greater responsibility to the government in Baghdad and pave the way for an eventual US withdrawal.

And as The Guardian reports today

Tony Blair will put pressure on the Iraqi government today to demonstrate that its security forces will be ready to take over from the British army in southern provinces within roughly a year.

The Howard government’s main challenge now will be to look as statesmanlike as possible as it jerks the wheel around while pretending it’s in control of the car.

As for climate change, there is now a crescendo of support within the Howard government for major action — action which must be prefaced by a direct acknowledgement of the problem. How the inevitable volte-face is finally implemented will be more about style than substance, because the substance is now more or less self-evident.

But when it comes to someone else’s gruesome civil war, or a fundamental threat to the health of the planet, embarrassing policy U-turns are the least of the problem.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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