When Australia hosted the G20 in 2014, in Brisbane, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered a fiery speech to the leaders of the world’s top 20 economies. It was a large platform for the relatively new prime minister and a good chance to explain how he saw Australia’s place in the world, this middle power, Anglophone nation at the bottom of Asia. Instead, Abbott complained that the public had not accepted his government’s recent budget, and the new medical “co-payment” of A$7 to see a doctor (which hitherto had been free at bulk billing clinics). Partisanship trumped world affairs.
And it seems it has yet again, with Kevin Rudd being disqualified before he’d even had a chance to run.
I wrote about this in February: How far would former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s UN Secretary General bid go? Two major problems loomed: It is unofficially Eastern Europe’s turn and there is also a strong feeling that it is time a woman took the role. However, his dream has ended closer to home as Malcolm Turnbull has refused to endorse his bid, a necessity for candidates.
On Friday, Malcolm Turnbull announced that he had decided and it was “a judgment about Mr Rudd’s suitability for that particular role.” Cabinet left it up to the prime minister in the end. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop apparently supported Rudd’s bid, as a tweet from the former PM (and foreign minister) shows. “My thanks also to Australian Foreign Minister Bishop and her ministerial colleagues for their support for UNSG. Unfortunately PM disagreed.”
Other politicians were divided. Rudd’s party, Labor, obviously supported him while the conservative faction of the Liberals did not. Bob Katter, a long time independent from Queensland, was very supportive, saying that not nominating an “eminently qualified” Kevin Rudd would be unpatriotic. “We have an opportunity to get an Australian in to one of the most important positions on Earth,” he told the ABC. Former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans said it was “embarrassing for Australia on a world stage.”
Rudd’s failings and strengths have been turned over once again. On the upside: strong foreign policy knowledge and engagement, and a commitment to and groupings. On the downside: a well-recorded tendency to micromanage.
Writing from Australia this all seems quite normal, but no other candidate has been so publicly picked over by the government or media. In fact all others were endorsed more or less as a matter of course. The thinking surely being, our nation has a chance for one of the world’s top jobs, of course we will support that. Not in Australia, where partisanship still rules.
Did Turnbull cave to pressure or does he genuinely believe in Kevin Rudd’s complete unsuitability? If it is the latter then that is a large call, given he has worked with the man only as opposing politicians and never up close and on the same side. Possibly his UN colleagues and those at the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM) could give a response on how suitable be might be. The P5, and the ten current non-permanent members too.
It is unlikely that Rudd would have been successful in any case, so why humiliate him by refusing him a bigger but less personal rejection?