Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:07 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:07 | SYDNEY

Machine men: From Tokyo to Sydney


Graeme Dobell

11 September 2008 15:56

I’ve never found a way to make the machinations of Japanese politics interesting to an Australian audience. Other journalistic failures of the same order: how to convey the underlying importance of the slow motion complexity that is the Doha Round, or the paint-drying progress of the ASEAN Regional Forum.

On Japanese politics, though, I’ve had an epiphany. At last, the Costa is clear. The way to explain the Liberal Democratic Party is to write it up as a version of the NSW Labor Party. Both groups are creatures and creations of their own machines. (Voters, you say? Parliament, you muse? Come now!) Both groups make deals as effortlessly as they wield chopsticks. As Robert McLelland quipped last year when comparing himself to Kevin Rudd: 'I may not speak Mandarin, but I’ve eaten quite a few.'

So after decades of worrying about the lack of real understanding between Japan and Australia, the answer is at hand. Move aside, Keating!: The Musical – the next blockbuster is going to be, 'Sussex Street does Shibuya!'

Australians might not be able to tell Yasuo from Shinzo. But the light will go on when it’s explained that each is a leader who did a Morris dance. Fukuda, Abe and Iemma all suffered the same fate. They tried to change the machine, but instead got chewed up by the gear box. Michael Costa and Kaoru Yasano could exchange notes. Both economics ministers understand the size of the problem but can’t seem to persuade anybody about what needs to be done.

Trying to put the NSW Liberal Party in the same box as the Democratic Party of Japan is a bit of a squeeze. But each party has plenty of players with wonderfully wacky ideas – one reason why the ugly machine men keep outplaying them. And the Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell could discover plenty of shared experiences over a few beers with another bare-knuckle bruiser, the DPJ’s Ichiro Ozawa. They would be as one in endorsing the line Gough Whitlam used on the Victorian ALP 40 years ago: 'Only the impotent are pure.'  

Who in NSW will play the role of the charismatic change agent, Junichiro Koizumi? The new Premier, Nathan Rees, doesn’t look to have the hair for the job. Koizumi offered both colour and courage. But it was smart courage. Koizumi picked some important fights with his own machine and won. His successors in both Tokyo and Sydney seem able to crash through alright, but then they merely crash and burn.

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