Professor Peter Drysdale of the ANU’s East Asia Forum, veteran of Australia’s foreign economic relations with the region, outlined the demise of Rudd to the readers of the Forum’s weekly digest. It kind of helps to remind us how strange this would look to foreigners.
Many of our international readers are perhaps justifiably baffled by the overthrow last week of former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, by Australia’s new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
Rudd stood tall on the international stage. He led a government, alone among all the OECD countries, that steered Australia successfully through the Global Financial Crisis, without recession. He was among the most effective of the protagonists that influenced the launching of the G20, meeting this weekend in Toronto, a new group that has promise of providing a greater measure of international and political security because it is more representative of global power than its predecessor, the G8, and is more adept at dealing with the problems in global economic governance. He swiftly moved to have Australia sign the Kyoto Protocol. And Rudd, among all global leaders, had a surer grasp of Chinese affairs than any major political leader outside China, when that is a political commodity in drastic short supply at a time of great need. In dealings with China he communicated with dignity and uniquely in the Chinese language. He had the correct strategic sense of how urgent it was to begin re-crafting arrangements in Asia and the Pacific to provide greater opportunity for dialogue on political as well as economic affairs in a way that comprehends the huge transformation of economic and political power that is taking place in our region.
These were impressive international political assets, and unquestionably huge assets for Australia. And, at home, he brought leadership to reconciliation with indigenous Australians and set in motion a substantial social and reform agenda. Rudd’s achievements in his short tenure in office were undoubtedly considerable.
Objective analysis suggests that Rudd was poised to win the next election, due within the next six months or so, despite a big drop in popular support driven by gaffs in the implementation of expansionary spending programs, a reversal of course on climate policy and questions of leadership style and process. The truth is that these questions provided the opening for factional powerbrokers within the governing Labor Party, in which Rudd had no permanent factional base, to settle scores. And amid the political uncertainties a sudden fracture of trust between Rudd and his Deputy led her to seize the unexpected prize.
Prime Minister Gillard is a very talented and polished political leader. There are likely to be few fundamental changes in Australian foreign policy direction. Rudd has chosen to continue in play. His foreign policy initiatives and big international diplomatic goals, in relation to China (of which Ms Gillard has a very sure grasp), climate change and regional architecture, are matters of deep foreign policy strategy that will not change and on which Rudd’s talents are likely deployed in some way.
The transfer of leadership has cut the Australian Prime Minister out of the G20 Summit in Toronto, where Rudd was also due to have important bilateral discussions with President Obama. That is a pity and an important cost to Australia’s national interests of the events of the last week in Canberra.
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Editor, 28th June.