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Queen of the Bogans

November 3, 2010

Exactly!

JULIA GILLARD’S tour of South-East Asia has become a public relations disaster.

It’s bad enough for the Prime Minister to seem insecure, clueless and, to be blunt, low rent, accompanied by an underemployed and underdressed boyfriend.

She’s so unsure of herself that she’s refused not only to say anything controversial, but anything at all, even on human rights in Burma, a gimme.

Example? Here is Gillard answering a reporter’s question at the ASEAN summit on human rights in Vietnam:


I will be having some comprehensive discussions today with the leaders of Vietnam. I’ll have the discussions and then we’ll talk about matters raised in the discussions, but I anticipate we’ll have a comprehensive engagement across all things in the relationship.


Here, in contrast, is US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the same forum on the same question:


Vietnam with its extraordinary dynamic population is on the path to becoming a great nation … that is among the reasons we express concern about the arrests and conviction of people for peaceful dissent, attacks on religious groups and curbs on internet freedom.


In fact, Gillard is confirming her admission at the Asia-Europe meeting last month that she’s a fish out of water: “I’d probably be more (comfortable) in a school watching kids learn to read in Australia than here in Brussels at international meetings.”

Forgive my rudeness, but what makes her awkwardness seem due more to a lack of class than of experience is the constant presence on the trip of her partner, hairdresser Tim Mathieson, often shown without a tie.

When the Prime Minister was met at Kuala Lumpur with a formal guard of honour, Mathieson even strolled the red carpet beside her, in brown trousers and a sports jacket.

I know, we’re OK with Gillard not being married to the man, but it signals a lack of commitment, and Mathieson’s sharing of his partner’s privileges will strike many as unearned and casual.

Still, these are largely presentational issues that may hurt Gillard, yet are of little consequence to our foreign policy.

There is one exception. Gillard is also squandering our diplomatic credibility by carrying a dead parrot into her every meeting with leaders in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

That parrot is the “solution” to the boat people flood she sprung before the election – a detention centre in East Timor she hadn’t even discussed with that country’s Prime Minister.

It’s already clear this thought bubble has popped. Four months on, not one country has backed it.

Moreover, we learned last month from the Immigration Department secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, that it is a preposterous ambition, needing perhaps 44 countries from Afghanistan to New Zealand to agree to send all asylum seekers coming into the region to Gillard’s East Timor centre.

Yet that centre will house just 500 to 2000 people, and East Timor’s President says they must be free to roam, and quick to leave, if he’ll even consider it.

This would mean countries as far off as the Philippines could ship boat people right to our door … and who must take them then? And fast?

So Gillard’s idea is dead, and she only pretends it’s alive to spare herself political pain. But here she is forcing regional leaders to study a thing they all know is a sham. Half-baked.

Some have been quite rude about it. Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister said after meeting Gillard he’d reserve his judgment until she gave him more information, particularly on funding: “A lot more needs to be done.”

And when journalists asked Gillard what Malaysia’s problem was, she just gave them yet more of her slogans. “I think what the Deputy Prime Minister was saying is he wanted to keep working through … he wanted to keep working through … we’re working through … “

Many commentators haven’t yet twigged that Gillard has been promoted beyond her competence. But more than one of the reporters following her shaky steps through Asia may now know.

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