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Letters from Downunder

If Love Makes the World Go Round, Diplomacy Makes it Work

Submitted by Lindsay Coker, Melbourne Australia

(1/10) It's not often I can come up with a news story from down under, one that's almost hot off the press, and one that should be of interest to many (thinking) Americans. It's this:

A former leader of a major political party here has been appointed ambassador to the US by the current prime minister of Australia. His name is Kim Beasley; he is one of the most widely respected people who have held this post, and it seems sure he will do a very great deal to cement Australia-US relations. He was born in 1948 in Perth, the capital of that vast - almost half the continent, and mostly uninhabited - area of the west, imaginatively called Western Australia. He is a son of a long serving politician who made a name for himself in the field of defense and foreign relations. He entered federal politics in 1980, became a minister in the then labor government in 1983, and in 1996 he became leader of the opposition and leader of the Federal Labor Party.

Now A digression. Australian politics is as different from American politics as honey is from marmalade. Both can provide nutrition, both have a common purpose, both are spread, but you could never be fooled into thinking one was the other. Having been founded by the Brits, the Westminster system was put firmly in place as soon as the colony had enough people who could mark their voting paper with the necessary cross and return the ruling conservatives to power. In other words, from about 1800. But also stemming from a convict colony, the notion of sucking up to the ruling class was anathema to the majority, but who nonetheless knew that eventual and continuing freedom lay in the provision of good government. Therefore, rather than toeing the conservative line - where the status quo is revered - they determined that social experiment would be one way to advance their capacity to govern into the future. Some of the early reforms they saw enacted include universal suffrage (1898), the 40 hour week (1944), the workers arbitration system where non-political arbiters were appointed to resolve labour disputes (1922?) and which continue to the present day in different guises, the formation of relatively progressive and not too self-serving unions, (about 1880) the provision of universal means tested health care (1970), the pharmaceutical benefits scheme where proven but needed medicines are made available to pensioners and other needy people at a fixed price (currently about $5) with strict control on prices paid to the manufacturers, means tested pensions as a fixed proportion of average weekly earnings, an independent judiciary, while until about 1988 many publicly used infrastructure services were owned and run by the government. There were other lesser but interesting ideas, and not everything proved to be worthwhile, but the ethos remained and not only is no one any the worse off, many are far better off and social unrest is minimal.

But politics here have remained relatively less conservative that yours, far more middle of the road, (which some say means left-leaning) but also more embracing of the notion that not everyone can look out for themselves and will need help from time to time. In rough terms, it is said that our conservative politicians are about as conservative as the Democrats, while the opposition, the Labor Party, is traditionally less so, (but at present is actually more so). Our present political stance is modeled on Tony Blair's English style - but let's not get into that.

Anyway, Mr. Beazley has a background in this left-leaning landscape, but no conservative should take umbrage for not only is he an accomplished diplomat, he has enormous knowledge and love of American people ant their history that is not only rare, it is profound. For instance, when, as a very young and junior minister of defense in 1988 he was taken on a tour of Antietam, site of the bloodiest one day battle of the American Civil War he began to expound on the overall strategy used . The expert accompanying the party was confounded by not only his guests general knowledge, but by the searching questions on some of the finer points of strategy adopted by both sides in this complex operation.

Hugh White, now a professor of strategic studies here, accompanied Kim on his journey and he writes: 'I remember seeing him reduce some hard line senior American policymakers, if not to tears than certainly to dewy eyes and lumpy throats by explaining to them how the Civil War, and the way Lincoln resolved the slavery issue through the terrible experiences of the civil war, had provided the US with the authority to play its leadership role in the 20th and 21st centuries - and that if America had not had the civil war it could not have done that.' He also told them that the whole world was the beneficiary of that suffering.

The combination of political savvy, high strategy and morality is very characteristic of this man, who never made prime minister possibly because of this, but also makes him an ideal choice to bring our two nations closer, especially in these times of financial stress - and I have to boast that our less conservative stance has ensured more and better safeguards were kept in place here, limiting the damage and helping a fast bounce back, whilst putting our leader, Kevin Rudd, firmly on the world stage. No matter what is pretended, many of the real issues in the world today are not resolved at Brussels or Nato headquarters, but in Washington. Mr. Beazley also has a very clear picture of the need for intelligence sharing between our two countries. Australia collects a great deal of information from its tracking stations, and it was Kim's work that brought the sharing of that to fruition.

Former US defense secretary Caspar Weinberger once said that Kim 'bomber' Beazley was one of the finest defense ministers he had ever worked with, and former secretary of state George Schultz rated him as outstanding.

So, if you get the chance to meet him or hear him speak, do so. You will nor be disappointed. And if you manage to get him to visit Emmitsburg you will be amply rewarded. I know he'd be interested in you, the area, and the history you possess. Drop a line to the Australian embassy. Just don't tell them I suggested it, because I haven't spoken to them. Ever.

Ever diplomatic, Lindsay

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker