So Kevin Rudd has become a bit self-indulgent.
We are told this on the very best of authority: one Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, who is, after all, a world expert on self indulgence. The focus of his criticism is that the man formerly known as Kevin 24/7 because of his obsessive work ethic is now to be called Kevin 747, in response to his penchant for overseas travel.
Well, hang on there. Rudd had barely moved into The Lodge before his critics were berating him for not visiting Japan. Since then he has done a fair bit of catching up and has indeed spent more time outside Australia than John Howard did in his first year in office; but then, Howard took the job as a notorious xenophobe. It was only in the latter years of his reign when he was running out of friends in Australia that he began taking refuge overseas, with his face constantly popping up at international sporting events as Janette scoured the world’s shopping malls.
Rudd, by contrast, is a born internationalist, but this does not mean his trips are fun – just ask the journalists who, increasingly reluctantly, take part in them. No more visits to five star hotels on the excuse that they need to stay close to their leader; Kevin and Therese are quite happy to save the taxpayers money by camping with the local ambassador and their entourage can make its own arrangements. And forget about sporting events, or any other kind of genteel tourism; it’s still Kevin 24/7, both in the air and on the ground and this applies in spades to his latest trek to the United States.
The original centrepiece was to have been an address to the United Nations on climate change with a bit of lobbying on the side on Australia’s bid for a place on the security council. This, of course, was not good enough for the hard right, who remain sceptical of climate change and have always been contemptuous of the United Nations, although to most rational citizens it was perfectly acceptable.
But then came the crash, and Rudd found himself at the heart of the greatest global economic crisis in three quarters of a century in much the same way as Howard found himself in Washington on 9/11. It was pure luck, but there was nowhere more important to be; it certainly beat the hell out of attending question time, even with Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader. And yet Turnbull himself has been mightily miffed taking it almost as a personal snub, although of course his own accession was no more predictable than the financial meltdown.
Rudd has been an active player in New York – the only serious cavil is that he has been too active, claiming a role above Australia’s station. And he has not forgotten his original purpose, of pushing the case for more action on climate change. His intervention can scarcely have been more timely, because the sceptics and the rent seekers are already using the economic crisis to make a case for more watering down and further delays on any action whatsoever. Look at the mess we’re in already, they say with just a touch of pride. Obviously we can’t afford to do anything about greenhouse gas targets or emissions trading, well not for the moment, anyway. Perhaps when things get back to normal …
Seldom has their been a greater disconnection between politics and reality. The idea, apparently, is that global warming will simply stop happening until we’re ready to deal with it. Weather patterns will revert to those of a century ago. The polar ice will return, farm animals will cease to fart and the atmosphere will purge itself of methane and carbon dioxide. Nature itself will become bound to the economic cycle.
Dealing with climate change has always been a hard sell and is getting harder as the time to pay the bill gets closer. The latest Lowy Institute survey suggests that support for action in Australia remains high, but not when it comes to money. More than half of us draw the line at $10 a month and nearly a quarter say nothing at all. In these circumstances any excuse for procrastination is a good one. Rudd and the scientists must and will oppose these modern day courtiers of King Canute, but it won’t be easy.
And a final (we hope) note on the Peter Costello front. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reports that his masterwork hit the bargain bins just three days after publication, with its cover price of $55 discounted to $44.95 at Readings in Melbourne, to $34.95 at Borders in Canberra and $32. 95 at its natural home, Big W. But that was then. Now, fellow author Robert Drewe reports, it’s done a Lehmann Brothers:
While off around the nation’s bookshops at the moment, trying to flog my new book, I’ve discovered some cheering news. At the close of the Brisbane writers’ festival on Sunday (and seeing the big display) I asked the booksellers how many Costello memoirs they’d sold to the 20,000 people who’d passed through the festival over the week. “Umm,” said the manager. “None actually.”
None of this will worry Costello, of course, who has already pocketed the huge advance from his publishers. But it is very good news nonetheless. Who says Australians are not discriminating readers?