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Hu saga another sign of inertia

WHEN Chinese police arrested Rio Tinto's Shanghai-based chief, Stern Hu, with all Rio's office computers, another loser was fast-talking prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who remained uncharacteristically silent for more than a week.

Until news of the jailing reached Canberra, the globe trotting Mr Rudd looked supremely confident.

Apart from losing Joel Fitzgibbon as defence minister - an episode in which a China Inc connection also surfaced - the Liberals hadn't laid a glove on Mr Rudd.

Quite the contrary.

He'd even humbled their impetuous and amateurish leader, Malcolm Turnbull, by promptly disclosing that a phony email on the 'Ute-gate' affair was all Mr Turnbull's holster held.

However, even before that, Canberra-based pundits were predicting an early election - one they saw Rudd-led Labor winning in a canter.

One commentator even claimed Labor would not only hold all its marginal seats but would pick-up 14 Coalition ones - another landslide.

Others began searching for potential Liberal leaders because Mr Rudd's bright prospects had convinced former treasurer, Peter Costello, to flee Canberra since his colleagues looked destined for long-term opposition.

Others hinted Mr Costello may accept a Rudd job offer, as another senior Howard government minister, ex-senator Robert Hill, has done.

That, if it happened, would mean greater humiliation; a long-time prime ministerial hopeful with a solid record as treasurer effectively swapping sides for a big salary to head something like, say, the Future Fund.

What, people would ask, does Australian Liberalism really stand for; the big dollar or those principles upon which Robert Menzies had built Australia's once most successful political movement?

But the Stern Hu kidnapping and his treatment like a prisoner-of-war has taken some shine off Mandarin-speaking Mr Rudd.

Ruddism, old-fashioned Whitlamism resuscitated, has suddenly taken on a different hue.

Events in Shanghai could be if not a turning point, then a significant, even if not yet fully appreciated, cog in the sprocket. Not before time.

State Scene says this because so little that was promised by Labor during 2007 has been realised. Worse still, prospects of those promises being realised are far from sanguine.

Little wonder so many now see big-spending Ruddism as nothing more than an endless queue of spin and newspeak.

Domestically the Rudd era began with the easily made and highly publicised stolen generation apology and a commitment to real progress for indigenous Australians.

Since then the Productivity Commission has reported that scant progress has been made in this area, despite tens of billions of dollars having been spent by Canberra since the late 1960s.

Predictably, Mr Rudd's terse response was that Australians must try even harder without as much as hinting at needed fundamental changes to Canberra's old tried and dismally failed policies.

Hardly reason for faith in a Rudd-moulded future.

Then there was the celebrity 2020 summit for brand new non-ALP ideas. Where are the nine they allegedly came up with?

Then a China visit plus other trips, which eventually prompted someone to ask why Japan - a major trading and investment partner since the 1960s - was ignored by Mr Rudd.

Lots of eggs were being foolishly put into the China basket.

So favoured was China that Mr Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith even secretly invited two top Chinese communist party politburo members - Zhou Yongkang, head of China's huge police apparatus, and Liu Changchun, Beijing's propaganda chief - to Canberra.

In other words China's two top anti-democratic enforcers were secretly duchessed.

Notwithstanding such clandestine hospitality, a senior Australian iron ore industry negotiator languishes in a Chinese jail without charges laid and no prospect of an open trial.

Hardly successful diplomacy in action. Quite the contrary; Mr Rudd scores two d-minuses since neither Japan nor China shows signs of holding him in anything approaching high regard.

Wouldn't a less flamboyant, even-handed and business-like approach, as more or less undertaken during the Howard years, in dealing with north-eastern Asia have been better?

Having a whiz-kid-style leader hasn't produced beneficial and durable results.

Then there's that other leg in the 18-month-old Rudd era - the fixation over so-called climate warming. Here he's also behaved - both here and abroad - more like an obsessive zealot than an empirically based realist.

Although it's long been evident India, China, and Japan - about half the world's population - won't be tampering with their industrial and power generating sectors to combat unsubstantiated claims that carbon dioxide caused climate warming, the PM's gone at breakneck speed as if they had agreed to join him.

He foolishly played all his cards, plus the joker, on this issue by signalling to the world that, come what may, Australia would proceed down a costly carbon-limiting path, which, it's now quite evident, will be like a flee on the elephant's posterior wanting to lead the huge mammal.

It's also worth noting that Climate Change Minister Penny Wong has had enormous difficulty answering several science-based questions put to her by Family First Senator Steve Fielding.

She and her advisers have been unable to answer the most basic one, namely that if the atmosphere's carbon dioxide level has been rising for the past 30 years why hasn't temperature risen.

Or, as Queenslander, Geoff Derrick, recently asked in a letter to the editor - why was it "that our earth has been much colder at some times in the past with much higher levels of CO2 than we see today. So how can CO2 be the main driver of global warming?"

Global warming over the past 100 or so years - when the world was coming out of the Little Ice Age - has benefited humanity because agricultural output was boosted, since carbon enhances plant growth.

Despite the Rudd-Wong duo's inability to grapple with such questioning, both seek to impose a burdensome tax upon Australian business, industry and all consumers.

But other issues have also prompted a loss of faith in Ruddism.

The never-credible FuelWatch and GroceryWatch pre-election ploys have vanished.

Mr Rudd reversed the Howard government's 'Pacific solution' detention policy with regard to boat arrivals into Australian territorial waters.

He's further softened the previous government's position by abolishing temporary protection visas, and amending the law requiring those in mandatory detention to repay the cost of their confinement.

Little wonder abandonment of that Howard policy, in the words of Melbourne-based columnist and National Civic Council president, Peter Westmore, "has been followed by a steady increase in the number of boat people, from a trickle to a torrent".

And there's the once - during the election campaign - much talked about education revolution that suddenly morphed into a building industry stimulus with schools acquiring halls and gymnasiums.

Where are those promised laptops for every students?

While Mr Rudd should be under pressure to start performing it's Mr Turnbull and deputy Julie Bishop who struggle in the polls due to their lack of credible policies.

Clearly he was lucky to inherit a government without debt, a budget in strong surplus, and a healthy banking sector.

What's needed is far less spin and zealotry, and less overseas travel (which it has been claimed is laying the groundwork for his push at a top UN job).

The only reason his spin, zealotry and globetrotting haven't negatively registered in the polls is that the badly led Liberals look so incompetent.

Does he want his prime ministership to be seen as vacuous and having lasted only because unimaginative opponents were wanting?

That's how things are shaping up.

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