It is hard to tell which aspect of Susan Devoy becoming Race Relations Commissioner is worse. Was it the selection of someone who plainly has no skills for a job requiring tolerance and empathy – or was it the rationalisation offered by Justice Minister Judith Collins, who said that Devoy would ‘tone down her views” once she was behind the desk? Memo to Collins: the prime quality required in a Race Relations Commissions is not the ability to learn on the job how to avoid embarrassing the government by speaking your mind. At least part of the requirement should be having a mind that doesn’t need to have its contents “toned down” in order to function properly.
No doubt, Devoy’s negative comments in the past about Waitangi Day protests and the wearing of burqas in public – “disconcerting” – are views shared by quite a few New Zealanders. Many listeners to talkback radio probably hold them. And that snooty comment I just made is probably the real purpose that Collins appointed Devoy to the post. Collins wants to stir up the elitist, out of touch commentators and academics, while scoring her government a few extra points among the “real people” who think that this race relations, Treaty consciousness stuff has got a bit out of hand. Sensible Susan will sort that nonsense out. We will see. For now, it probably doesn’t bode all that well for race relations in this country that our current Justice Minister is prepared to turn the appointment of our next Race Relations Conciliator into a form of political trolling.
For months, it has been pretty clear that Labor is going to lost the next election in Australia, and that any leadership issues atop the Party are merely about minimising the losses. Yesterday’s events were a debacle for all concerned. Kevin Rudd had been taunted only 12 months ago by the same Simon Crean to show his hand and stand as leader to resolve the leadership issue for once and for all – and then got soundly thumped when he did, and was despatched to the back benches.
So when Crean triggered another leadership spill yesterday and – this time – pleaded with Rudd to stand, you could forgive Rudd for counting the numbers, and realizing he still risked defeat by people who hated him beyond any rational assessment. So Rudd declined to stand, and Gillard and her deputy Wayne Swan won an empty endorsement. With the iceberg in sight, it is full speed ahead on the deck of the Titanic.
What we were left with was some pretty hilarious commentary in the Aussie papers, most of it directed at the hapless Crean. This column by Tony Wright in the Sydney Morning Herald for instance, notes that Crean began the day as Minister of the Arts, and ended it with his arts handed to him on a platter. More of the same:
Simon Crean believed the Labor Party needed something approaching a bomb to blow a hole in its thin facade as a competitive political outfit. He could hardly have imagined that instead, he would become a suicide bomber, abandoned to wander down a lonely alley and detonate himself, leaving the party he has served for a fair slice of his adult life a smoking ruin.
Wright dismisses the notion that Crean was a Judas goat being used by Gillard to lure Rudd out to be slaughtered. Crean’s subsequent fate – he’s now joining Rudd on the back benches – bears that out. Gillard didn’t want this test. The whole point of calling the election date well before time was supposed to give the campaign time to focus on the unpleasant reality of Tony Abbott, not on the awful death throes of the Labor Party. This being Australia, Rudd comes in for some stick too, for allegedly not having the “bottle” to stick his neck out again.
After the election, Rudd will inherit a smoking ruin. It being Labor, the remnants of the caucus will blame him as much as Gillard – for committing the sin of being more popular with the Australian voters than she was, and for not using that popularity more adroitly to somehow save their skins. As Wright concludes with his bomb analogy:
Poor Simon Crean’s…legacy is that he indeed managed to blow a hole in the Labor Party’s facade. The problem is that it revealed frightful writhing things within.