Et tu, Julia?

It’s a bit funny how quickly personal fortunes can turn around; just a month or two ago, the putsch was on, and we were all watching Kevin Michael Rudd give his final, painful press conference as Prime Minister. At that point in time, it did not seem likely that we would see Rudd return to the forefront of political debate in this country. Although he was at pains to re-iterate his commitment to continue on the backbenches as the Member for Griffith, before very long the media rumour mill was running overtime with suggestions on what international diplomatic roles might potentially float across the former Prime Minister’s desk.

Now the Rudd Government is history, the campaign is history, the federal election itself is history, and we have a Gillard Labor Government at the helm, assisted by the Greens and independents Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, and Rob Oakeshott. If that wasn’t strange enough, the former Prime Minister has returned as a frontline member of Cabinet as Foreign Minister; one pictures him staggering zombie-like into the room with that Milky Bar grin, daggers jutting haphazardly from his back. We’re a long way from Kansas now. One supposes, given the unpredictability of recent events, that it would not be completely inconceivable for Kevin Rudd to emerge as Prime Minister again in some crazy election campaign in the future.

There is little doubt that Rudd is the best person for the job in Foreign Affairs and that under normal conditions, he would be a big plus for the government. Stephen Smith has run a tight ship but has not really shone either during his time in the role, particularly given that he was always operating in Rudd’s shadow. Suggestions from the Opposition and indeed from Professor Hugh White that the former Prime Minister damaged Australia’s relationships with some of its partners during his time in office are exaggerated. As it stands however, given the circumstances, there are clearly going to be some outstanding personal issues that Federal Labor will need to confront in Cabinet in order to govern effectively. An already byzantine situation, given the reliance of Labor on the Greens and the independents for power, will hardly be simplified by the fact that one of the most senior positions in the government is held by someone who was so recently betrayed by the new Prime Minister.

Matters are so delicately poised that a by-election in practically any seat but the most safest of seats could result in a change of government. I’m not too sure about the stability bit, but this election has certainly delivered political intrigue to the nation – in spades.

The assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

Without doubt, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was acting in Australia’s national interest when he decided to expel an Israeli representative from the Mossad from Australia. He was, of course, acting on the outcomes of Australian intelligence service investigations into the use of Australian passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The expulsion is hardly, in itself, an earth-shattering action. Australia can not be seen to simply allow foreign administrations to openly corrupt the integrity of the Australian passport as an internationally reliable identity document. Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has already played down the action, which can only reasonably be regarded as level-headed and just.

Whilst Israel itself is playing down the action, of course, local representatives from the Israel lobby are mercilessly playing it up. It is as if Stephen Smith announced he was putting a price on the head of Benjamin Netanyahu. Federal Labor’s member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, announced today that he personally condemned his government’s action. Greg Sheridan pronounced the action “very poor” and “very feeble”, labelling it a “bad mistake” and “an overreaction”. John-Michael Howson, a Melbourne entertainment identity who extreme and unbalanced attitude towards Islam has already been highlighted by Media Watch, was quick to announce his disgust with the action. Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop put her foot in it this afternoon by employing the diplomatically ingenious argument that everyone forges passports anyway, including the Australian Government. Bishop was forced to embarrassedly walk away from her comments this evening.

Fundamentally, this is really very, very simple. What is at stake is the integrity of the document that is used to represent Australian citizens to the world. Australia can not be seen to tolerate the manipulation of the document and its use for dubious ends.

If the folks mentioned above checked their biases at the door when considering this issue, I am certain they would reach the same conclusion. How would Danby, Howson, Sheridan and Bishop react if, say, it was reasonably believed by ASIO that the Iranian Government had used and manipulated Australian passports in a hit on a Zionist leader? Would they have a different opinion?

Or do they not care about what foreign governments do with our passports?

But what about Thailand?

The subcontinent is not the only part of the world in our region with a national crisis on its hands. Apart from the Mumbai terror attacks, which look set to further inflame tensions between India and Pakistan, it is perhaps easier than it should be for us to forget that Thailand is suffering quite a dramatic crisis of its own. For six days now, Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi Airport has been closed, having been seized unlawfully by anti-government demonstrators under the umbrella of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD – unofficial). Back in August, the Prime Minister’s office was taken over by the same group, and all of this after democratic elections were held in the country last December.

In an era when national security is such a hot topic that punters are forced to only take 100ml bottles of liquid on board with them on flights, sealed in little plastic bags, shouldn’t we be concerned that an entire airport has been taken over in one of our closest neighbours, by a political organisation that reportedly is seeking to remove voting rights from people through unlawful acts?

The People’s Alliance for Democracy, which is seeking to overthrow the government and completely reengineer Thailand’s fledgling democracy, seems to have been quite throughly misnamed. Diehard monarchists at heart, they certainly make the Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy look like a knitting club for hippy centenarians by comparison. Andrew Walker from the Australian National University has a fairly strong view about the situation:

Dr Walker said there was no justification for the protesters’ actions.

“Their action is unreasonable and should be condemned – this is a group using force and the threat of violence to bring about overthrow of an elected government.”

I think it’s quite reasonable for people to refer to this as a terrorist attack.”

Thailand’s armed forces seem incapable or else unwilling to act to restore order. To date, at least according to his ministerial website, it does not appear that Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has issued as much as a media release on the matter. Apart from expressing frustration at the difficulties the government is facing with getting stranded Australians out of the country, it would seem the Rudd Government does not have anything to say or strong thoughts about how it can assist.

Frankly, I don’t think this is good enough. Australia should be rightly concerned if its neighbours are incapable of controlling their own civil infrastructure; infrastructure that services a substantial tourist trade with this nation and indeed that could potentially be put to nefarious use, as recent events should have burned into everyone’s minds. We need to offer the Thai government formal assistance in this matter, and demand that they bring the situation under control, with all visiting Australians returned to home soil immediately.