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Australian Excitement Lessens for Obama as Fourth State Trip Cancelled

  • Derek Henkle

With four trips this year to the Asian Pacific having been called off by the Obama administration -- most recently because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- Australian excitement over US state visits is dwindling.

As Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Monday sought to reinforce the reason behind US President Barack Obama's postponed trip, many Australians seemed to be growing indifferent as to whether it matters at all if the President comes.

This follows the Prime Minister's reaction last week, which some saw as an effort to pre-empt political fallout from the fourth cancellation this year of a US dignitary's trip to Australia. "He has a big challenge on his hands, and it's in the Gulf of Mexico," Mr. Rudd said. "That's very difficult, and represents a huge challenge for the administration… He's welcome in Australia any time he chooses to visit."

The stepped up public relations effort comes as Rudd faces criticism on some editorial pages, predicting he may be in political trouble without a so-called "Obama bump" in an election which could be only months away.

Tom Switzer, editor of the Australian Spectator does not share that view. "There's no question that Prime Minster Rudd would love to have President Obama here, and his very attractive family, to showcase," he said. "There's no question. But I think long gone are the days when an American Presidential visit helps out a Prime Minister."

Whether it's long gone, lackluster, or an indication that US influence may be waning in the region; Australians, as they say here, just can't be bothered:

Edwina Leslie: "If he comes or he doesn't, I'm sort of indifferent."
Waine Parry: "We'd be more offended if someone like the Chinese leader didn't come and visit us in this current climate. That's how most of us are employed."
Anne Gilbee: "Because you have to fly so far to get here, we're used to people just finding it really difficult to get here, so I think we'll be fine."

Probably no group is more disappointed by the on-again-off-again nature of the President's visit than students here at the University of Sydney. They published a commemorative edition of their student paper, which has now been updated to read: "Obama, Where the Bloody Hell Are You?

"I think it's not as much a problem for the reality, as for the brand, the brand of Obama as the world president, rather than the American President," Henry Hawthorne, editor, Syndney University student paper said.

Before the first visit was scheduled in March, Hawthorne said he was excited to see Australia rising on the global political stage. Now, following three Presidential cancellations, and the earlier cancellation by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he's worried the snubs may actually reflect a view that Australia is not a significant world player.

"I think people are caring less and less about whether Obama comes out or not though because people expected him to come out a long time ago," Hawthorne said. "He didn't. He said he'd come out again. Again he didn't. So people are becoming pretty jaded and a little bit over it."

And it is not just student media that have wound up with inaccurate publications because of last minute cancellations. Back at the Australian Spectator, the unpredictable scheduling has caused a new sort of policy for covering the rescheduled US state visits.

"I'm not going to even publish anything on this, I'm just going to ignore it," Tom Switzer, editor Australian Spectator said. "And I got badly burned the last time the President was supposed to come… I had a whole issue of the Spectator, at least one article in that issue, dedicated to the US visit--which looks stupid--so I'm not about to be caught off guard by doing the same thing again."

That may have White House officials wondering how they're going to address a public relations mess in Australia, while simultaneously cleaning up the mess in the Gulf.

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