Saturday, November 24, 2007

John Howard's 'humiliating defeat'

In what Patrick Barta and Rachel Pannett (Wall St. Journal) call "a humiliating defeat," Australia's littlest bully John Howard has been sent packing in the country's federal election in which 73.8% of the vote has been counted. Gemma Daley (Bloomberg News) sums up the Labor Party's winning platform: "tackle climate change, restore workers' bargaining power and withdraw Australian troops from Iraq." Michelle Grattan (Sydney Morning Herald) explains the winning side of the election:

Kevin Rudd will be prime minister and, as John Howard said in his last desperate days during the campaign, Australia will change. Just how much, we will learn over coming months and years.
The Rudd agenda is still a work in progress. Despite some nerves in the ALP camp about whether it would really be able to get the needed 16 seats, last night's Labor win did not come as a surprise. But if we think back a year - before Rudd displaced Kim Beazley - it was another story. This result seemed out of reach, even though Beazley was doing all right in the polls.
Once Rudd was there, people felt freer to decide they were over Howard, that it was time for renewal. A move to Rudd would be generational change; going to Beazley wouldn't have been.

Daley notes the following of the election (see what gets ignored):

Labor won't hold a majority of seats in the Senate, unlike Howard during his last term. The Liberal-National coalition has 37 seats against Labor's 32, according to the ABC.
The balance of power will be held by five Greens party senators, the sole Family First representative and anti-gambling independent Nick Xenophon.
The son of a share cropper in Queensland, Rudd attended Australian National University before becoming a diplomat in Stockholm and Beijing between 1981 and 1988. He worked for the Queensland state Labor Party before entering parliament in 1998.
Voters were attracted to his pledge to abolish the government's workplace laws, which prompted 500,000 people to march in protest in 2005. The reform eliminated unfair dismissal rules and made it harder for workers to strike.
Labor has promised a package named "Forward With Fairness,'' which allows workers to bargain as a group and has a "safety net'' to safeguard wages and conditions.

What got left out? Withdrawing from Iraq. It's as though The Peace Resister Katrina vanden Heuvel was a stringer for Bloomberg.

AP notes the reality in their first sentence but also indicates Rudd may be playing the kind of shell games that the Democratic leadership in the US Congress play: "Australia has elected a new prime minister who has promised to withdraw his country's 550 combat troops from Iraq, and leave twice that number there in mostly security roles. Kevin Rudd succeeds John Howard, who had said all the troops would stay as long as needed. Rudd is also promising to change Australia's approach to climate change, and make the issue his top priority."

Australian troops haven't been engaged in a combat role. Overall, they've been stationed at the Australian embassy in the Green Zone. That is where Jake Kovco died and Kovco's death looms over the election even though various outlets refuse to acknowledge it.

Jake Kovco was the first Australian soldier to die in Iraq. The Howard government attempted to turn his death into a p.r. blitz but, as usual, bungled everything. Kovco's body was to return to Australia on April 26, 2006, but instead of the 25-year-old Kovco, the casket held Bosnian contractor Juso Sinanovic. Among the many questions the Howard government could never shake was that they rushed the return to turn the return into part of ANZAC Day (April 25th). The government bungles did not stop there. Juso Sinanvic, for example, couldn't be returned to his family until nearly a month later. Brendan Nelson, Howard's Defence Minister, repeatedly angered the Kovco family and the public with his conflicting statements and outright lies. The previous alone was enough to underscore that no one was in charge of the federal government and Nelson's mealy-mouthed, self-serving statements and claims that he was distorted by the press (he wasn't, Australia's ABC had his statements on an audio recording) chipped away at already sinking public confidence day by day.

The inquiry into Jake Kovco's death only demonstrated the lack of leadership. How Kovco died is still unknown (and Judy Kovco, Jake's mother, continues to demand a real and independent inquiry) but what was known from the inquiry that took place in the summer of 2006 was that no rules were followed. Kovco's body was stripped of his clothes and they weren't preserved, there was no effort made to preserve the crime scene and people came and went -- despite orders to seal the room -- before investigators could arrive from Australia. At some point recently, Crapapedia put out the lie that Kovco died in his barracks room alone (cited by many e-mails in the last weeks). Kids, it's not Wikipedia, it's Crap -- Crapapdeia. Kovco was not alone in the room and the two soldiers present testified that they were present. The Australian government made the decision that the two soldiers could not be indentified by name in the media (they would be identified after they returned from Iraq to Australia). One of the two had his DNA on the gun that shot Kovco and gave a laughable explanation that his DNA jumped off something he touched onto Kovco who then touched his gun and that's how it ended up on the pistol that killed Kovco. Despite the fact that forensic experts testified that 'hypothesis' wasn't scientifically possible (a large amount of that soldier's DNA was on the gun), the inquiry went with the non-scientific explanation. Self-serving officials testified at the inquiry including one who had a pathetic moment as he broke down in tears during his testimony, tears over how hard these questions were on his career, not tears over the death of Jake Kovco. The result was a clearly bungled inquiry further casting doubts on the Howard leadership.

If domestically in the United States, Katrina demonstrated the bungles and lack of compassion of the Bully Boy, in Australia, Jake Kovco's death demonstrated that the country had no leadership. As Brendan Nelson received no public repremand for his non-stop errors, bungles and lies, it became clear there was no accountablity and that's before you get to the DVD-Rom that contained an early report or the later -- and non-connected -- images of Australian soldiers began popping up in the Austrlian media doing very non-honorable things in Iraq.

It was in that climate that Rudd initially seized control of his party (April 2006). Only this week, Australia's ABC offered a look at key moments on the political scene and, unlike the international media, they moved quickly to the issue of Kovco, in "Reflecting on party performance:"

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Election are not decided by formal campaigns alone, but by performances over it's previous three years, let's take a moment now and reflect on the short history leading up to election 2007.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I am truly humbled by this extraordinary expression of confidence
MARK LATHAM, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: The ongoing speculation is damaging the party.
Our conclusion is I should look after my health and pursue a normal life outside of politics.
Therefore I've decided to resign both as Labor leader...
JOURNALIST REPORT VOICEOVER: This is a Government department under siege, since the wrongful detention of Australian resident Cornelia Rau.
MARK LATHAM: Why shouldn't people know about such a two-faced stance?
JOHN ANDERSON, FORMER NATIONAL PARTY LEADER: I've decide the time is right for me to step down as leader of the Nationals.
(excerpt from Government advertisement)
VOICEOVER: Australia has come a long way. But we can't stand still. It's why we're introducing WorkChoices.
(end of excerpt)
PROTESTORS: (chanting) We're union and we're proud! Howard's a coward!
JOURNALIST REPORT VOICEOVER: If John Howard was nervous this morning, he wasn't showing it.
The third and final member of his Government to front the inquiry...
JOHN HOWARD: By see two senior ministers appear, this Government has demonstrated its transparency.
JOURNALIST REPORT VOICEOVER: It was supposed to be a dignified home coming for a fallen soldier.
JUDY KOVCO, MOTHER OF JAKE KOVCO: Have you got his body?
BRENDAN NELSON, DEFENCE MINISTER: They were angry, and they dished it out to me, and I don't blame them.
KIM BEAZLEY: My commission is terminated, and caucus has decided to change leadership to Kevin Rudd.
KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: I went purely as Mr Graeme Edwards' guest. I stand by the statements I said the other day.
JOHN HOWARD: I would probably.... certainly form the view well into my term that it would make sense for me to retire, and in those circumstances, I would expect that Peter would take over.

Kim Beazley, whom Rudd ousted in 2006, didn't attend Kovco's funeral and went on to whine that he wasn't able to attend due to late notice (and lack of travel arrangements by the government) -- unable to attend due to late notice while giving repeated interviews on that day (including to Madonna King for ABC's Australia radio).

As late as last month, when David Pearce died serving in Afghanistan, Jake Kovco was still in the news. From the Sydney Morning Herald's "Soldier 'a patriotic Australian':"

Trooper Pearce's body will be returned home under constant ADF escort, to prevent any repeat of the mix-up over Private Jake Kovco, whose body was confused with that of a Bosnian carpenter while being returned from Iraq.

Repeating, the death of Jake Kovco and the aftermath punctured John Howard's blustering image and revealed how inept and uncaring his administration was. Whether or not Rudd will provide the change many voters hope for, Howard was exposed as a faux-leader in a way that he'd never been before in his long political career.

Sounding like the thankfully dead Ego of Us All, Howard's concession speech included this bit of bragging: "I bequeath to him a nation that is stronger, prouder and more prosperous than it was 11 1/2 years ago."

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