There are arguments both for and against the Australian Government’s involvement of Toyota’s so-called Green Camry, and we will be hearing them for long time. But one aspect of it cannot be denied: when industry, the unions and the state premiers all unreservedly applaud the decision, it is time for taxpayers to clutch their wallets with both hands and count the household silver.

When all the usually antagonistic interest groups are satisfied, it means someone will be paying through the nose. This has, after all, been the history of the motor vehicle industry in Australia, which has only ever existed through heavy subsidies of one kind or another. The justification has always been that not only does it provide employment for a large number of people; it gives the country an industrial base, which is vital for its defence capacity, among other things.

There is also a feeling that we are not really a developed nation unless we have a substantial manufacturing sector: Kevin Rudd himself has said that he does not want to be prime minister of a country that doesn’t make anything. Economic purists will dismiss this as ill-informed waffle, but it still resonates with a lot of voters, so perhaps Rudd has pulled the right rein.

But if there are question marks over the big policy decision of his trip to Japan, there are none over his diplomatic progress. The idea that the attention he has given to China has led to rift with Japan was always a bit of a beat-up: what tensions there have been have had more to do with the whaling wars than any underlying problems. But in any case, the last week worked brilliantly for him. The only real drawback is that the visit took place against the background of a political crisis in Tokyo.

But Rudd’s tactics transcended politics. By starting his itinerary in Hiroshima, he went straight to the country’s emotional core, too often ignored by Western politicians. He then used the occasion to announce the formation of a new international council to reinvigorate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This may be overambitious, but it is an idea the Japanese will embrace with great enthusiasm.

Then, in a worthy promotion of Australian culture, he went to an exhibition of paintings by the great Emily Kngwarreye, now wowing them in Tokyo. An audience with the emperor acknowledged his respect for Japan’s traditions, and then it was back to diplomacy to try and defuse the whaling controversy. While not walking away from Australia’s position of total opposition to Japan’s so-called scientific whaling program, Rudd did manage to shift the ground, at least temporarily. Rather than going straight to the International Court of Justice, Australia will now wait for the next meeting of the International Whaling Commission, where the Americans are said to be preparing a compromise motion that would see a major reduction in the kill.

All in all, a thoroughly successful exercise. It may, as the nigglers in the press corps of both countries have complained, taken him six months to get there, but once arrived, he didn’t put a foot wrong. Another excellent adventure to put in the scrapbook.

The second NRL state of origin game was always going to be tough for New South Wales. Queensland held the home ground advantage; the Maroons coach, Mal Meninga, had given the referee firm riding instructions; and the NRL itself had an interest in a Queensland win to keep the series alive and ensure a big gate in the third game.

But the Blues’ last hopes disappeared when, just hours before kick off, the most powerful Queenslander of all sidelined their most aggressive player. Kevin Rudd handed Belinda Neal a yellow card following yet another unsavoury nightclub incident. Having already been sent off in the round ball game, she was now ordered to undergo counselling and warned of the possibility of disqualification for life if her attitude both on and off the field did not improve.

It was an extraordinary intervention from the Prime Minister. As New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma had repeatedly noted, the evidence about what actually happened during what will undoubtedly become known as Iguanagate was both murky and contradictory. Normally Neal, along with her husband John Della Bosca, could have expected to escape with no more than a caution on the run. But Rudd’s deputy Julia Gillard had already gone public with a generalised homily about the behaviour expected from politicians, so perhaps the Prime Minister felt an obligation to back her up.

At least he knew he was on safe ground: Neal is not a popular figure on either side of politics, even in her home electorate. There is a general feeling that she owes her progress up the greasy totem poll more to her marriage to Della Bosca and his factional enforcers than to any innate political talent.

She was first slotted into the Senate in 1994 following the resignation of right-wing mate Kerry Sibraa, but after deciding she was destined for greater things resigned to contest the marginal House of Representatives seat of Robertson in 1998. Her preselection was controversial; she split the branch and failed to win the seat. The split continued through the next three polls; in 2001 and 2004 a long time local Trish Moran eventually won the preselection but was effectively abandoned by head office and the seat remained with the National Jim Lloyd. Neal was shoehorned back in as the candidate last year, and resources poured in behind her.

The rest, as they say, is history – as Neal will be if she gives her enemies half an opening. As Rudd has made it clear, there will be no more warnings. Next time, you’re off.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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