Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:29 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:29 | SYDNEY

Australia election: Labor and the alliance


Sam Roggeveen


16 November 2007 15:16

When it comes to describing its attitude to the US alliance, the Australian Labor Party has to thread a very fine needle. Labor's traditional tactic, used again yesterday by Shadow Foreign Minister McClelland in the foreign policy debate and by Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd at Wednesday's official campaign launch, is to delicately refer to Labor's more independent foreign policy stance. I say 'delicately' because Labor knows there are two incompatible audiences for its message, neither of which it wants to alienate. One is the left of the party, which is suspicious of the US, and another is the US itself, which wants to be reassured that Labor will not rock the boat too much on a relationship that serves the US very well. 

Whether or not these delicate references to independence succeed in appeasing those two audiences seems to come down to who is delivering the message. My impression from American observers I've talked to is that they see Kevin Rudd as a steady-as-she-goes figure who will keep the alliance in good shape. So they are reassured that 'independence' won't mean radical change. And the likelihood of a Labor victory seems to have been enough to appease the Labor left. They haven't voiced much disagreement with Rudd's foreign policy that I'm aware of.

Still, I wonder if Rudd and his team could have avoided this difficult dance altogether with a slightly different tactic. It seems to me one chink in the Coalition's strong armour on the US alliance lies in the fact that the relationship is now so heavily biased in favour of the Republican Party, and in particular President Bush (Mr Howard's indelicate remarks on Barack Obama's presidential campaign back in February play into this theme). Attacking this Republican bias would be a safer tactic than the traditional 'independence' line, in that it avoids any hint of leftist anti-Americanism. Rather, Labor can say it wants  to restore the alliance to its proper bipartisan basis. This line of argument has the added benefit of emphasising Howard's close links to a president who is very unpopular in the Labor left and among Australians generally.