View from The Hill

View from The Hill

Kevin Rudd set to give planes and boats to Indonesia in visit this week

Stepping quickly onto foreign soil is just what Kevin Rudd would like. Flickr/Eva Rinaldi

Kevin Rudd will take a kitbag of goodies to Indonesia this week as he seeks more help from that county to curb the boat flow.

The secondhand C-130 Hercules planes that Indonesia was going to buy at “mates rates” will now be a gift, and there will be patrol boats (customs not naval) thrown in. There could also be developmental aid.

The whole package could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The decision to make a gift of the planes and provide the boats was taken before last week’s leadership change, in preparation for Julia Gillard making this trip.

Rudd will be in Jakarta and Bogor on Thursday and Friday for the third Indonesia-Australia Leaders’ Meeting. The discussions will be broad but being seen to be able to do something to combat the boat inflow is vital as Rudd moves towards the election.

The patrol boats will assist with border protection but the free gift of the C-130s, which are transport planes, is about putting the Indonesians in a mood to be helpful generally on the border issue.

The trip plays to Rudd’s strengths. He’s naturally at home on the foreign stage and has a good relationship with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Gillard’s experience with Indonesia was mixed. The suspension of the live cattle trade caused great tension in the relationship. Rudd, foreign minister at the time, distanced himself by letting it be known he hadn’t been consulted; he later got involved in negotiations to sort things out. On the other hand, the regular leadership dialogue with Indonesia started (in late 2011) under Gillard.

While Rudd will be striving to come out of these talks with an impression that he has momentum in tackling people smuggling, previous experience indicates what’s said doesn’t always match what’s done on the issue.

Before the last election Gillard announced Australia would negotiate a regional processing centre on East Timor. It could not be delivered. In 2011 she unveiled the Malaysia people swap, which never came off because of a High Court decision, and parliament refusing to pass validating legislation.

Today the government announced interceptions of two boats on Friday with a total of more than 100 people on board.

Last week Rudd claimed Tony Abbott’s turn-back-the-boats policy could lead to “conflict” (he later added “diplomatic” before “conflict”) with Indonesia – a claim the Indonesians shrugged off as Australian domestic politicking.

His statement was an echo of Paul Keating’s claim before the 1996 election that Asian leaders would not deal with John Howard if he became PM.

The Rudd government is working on tightening processing procedures on boat arrivals. Foreign Minister Bob Carr said last week the situation had changed and the people now coming were economic migrants; he declared Australia needed a “tougher, more hard-edged assessment” process.

Refugee advocate David Manne today described the claim as “fact defying” and called on Carr to produce evidence.

Meanwhile Howard, the man who did stop the boats, has become part of Abbott’s weaponry, with an appearance at an American-style razzle-dazzle Liberal rally in Melbourne on Saturday.

The opposition emphasises that it was Rudd who broke down the tough policy that was Howard’s legacy. The former PM told the Liberals: “Kevin Rudd is like the arsonist claiming respectability as the firefighter in imagining he’s got the solution to the problem of border protection.”

Rudd might have inherited the Indonesian visit from Gillard but stepping quickly onto foreign soil is just what he would like.

One of his first things he wanted to do after the won the caucus ballot on Wednesday was to try to call world leaders.

When he indicated he would not want to go to the polls on September 14, Gillard’s announced time, he mentioned the St Petersburg G20 summit in early September as one factor to take into consideration in setting an election date.

Rudd has the options of bringing forward the election date into August or pushing it out later.

Strong advice will be going to him to call an election early, to capitalise on the honeymoon.

One argument for delay has been to allow him more time to get his agenda to the people.

But there is another factor that might play in his own mind. Australia has the chairmanship of the United Nations Security Council in September; in addition, the United Nations’ Leaders week starts in the General Assembly on September 24.

Rudd would love to be in the Security Council chair. He would love to address the UN. If the election is over by then, that opportunity could be lost.

Tomorrow Rudd will announce his ministerial lineup.

Aware of the political perception of having brought down the country’s first female PM. he will increase the number of women in the ministry to a record 11. There will also be more women in cabinet than ever before (six), with Jacinta Collins, Catherine King and Julie Collins becoming cabinet ministers.

The reshuffle will restore Kim Carr to his old portfolio of innovation and industry, add communications to Anthony Albanese’s responsibility of infrastructure, and give one minister responsibility for both climate change and environment.

Former climate minister Greg Combet, who departed from the ministry after the leadership change and announced at the weekend he would leave parliament at the election, said today that bringing forward the move from the carbon tax to a floating price – which Rudd wants to do – was possible but not easy.

“Setting up an emissions trading scheme is quite a complex thing, and that is one of the reasons why we set in place a fixed-price period for three years”, Combet told the Ten Network. With the proposed link with the European scheme, there would also need to be fresh negotiations, he said.

A Galaxy poll published in the Sunday Telegraph showed Rudd leading Abbott as better PM 51-34% and Labor trailing 49-51% on a two-party basis compared with 45-55% earlier in June.

Both sides are talking about the “sugar hit.”

PS Wayne Swan, who as treasurer issued a weekly economic note, today put out one with the droll opening line: “My final economic note comes at the end of a rather tough week”.

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