The Prime Minister has now spent more time overseas than her predecessor ‘Kevin747’ did in the same period.

Being herself seems to be working out for her. Picture: Ray Strange

Partly a product of timing – the end of the year begs attendance at a number of multilateral forums – she has visited the troops in Afghanistan; lobbied for the World Cup in Switzerland; conducted bilateral visits to both Malaysia and Indonesia; and attended the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels, the East Asian Summit in Vietnam, the G20 in South Korea and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Japan.

Gillard’s latest trip was to Portugal for a NATO meeting on Afghanistan spending by her calculation “fifty-five hours in the air for eighteen on the ground”.

Reflecting earlier this month in Japan on her travels before flying overnight back home for Parliament she said, “There are a few moments when you would have to say it has been a bit slow but overwhelming it has been a good experience”. But just how she has been doing out there on the world stage depends on which audience you speak to.

Domestically Gillard’s trips have to some extent cemented her role as Prime Minister thanks to smiling photos with the likes of Barack Obama, Hu Jintao, Dmitri Medvedev and David Cameron as well as military guards of honour lining the steps of her VIP jet at every port of call.

But her lack of experience in contrast to Rudd’s continues to plague her with everyone seemingly waiting for her to trip up.

In fairness her comments last month that she was not “passionate” about foreign affairs did not help but much of her work abroad has so far been overshadowed by more trivial aspects. In Malaysia her counterpart came down with chicken pox so she had to meet his deputy instead; in Indonesia the President had to cancel her state dinner to visit people affected by the volcano eruption; and at the G20 they mistook her for an Austrian.

To her credit the Prime Minister is not letting it get to her though.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Phil Coorey reports a Gillard intimate as saying the “Julia versus Kevin” in foreign affairs “would have some significance if she wasn’t comfortable in her own skin, if it was messing with her head. But Gillard in no way is intellectually or emotionally benchmarking herself against Kevin. She’s just doing what she does to the best of her abilities.”

While the public might not be noticing those abilities yet those in the diplomatic corridors certainly are.

Following her meeting with President Obama on Saturday word around APEC was that his aides were impressed by her ability to effortlessly transition across different topics “without a single note in front of her”. She has also recently sealed a significant economic deal with Indonesia and a similar one concerning uranium with Russia that were both left lingering for some time.

While Gillard might not be a natural on the world stage she is slowly realising the best approach is to just be herself: “I like dealing with people and whether you are dealing with leaders of the G20, whether you are dealing with leaders here at APEC, whether you are at home talking to Australians about what’s on their minds, people are people.”

Another strategy she has employed is to retreat to topics she is most comfortable talking about. While Rudd would gravitate to topics of regional architecture, nuclear non-proliferation and the rise of China, Gillard used a speech in Seoul last Thursday to focus on how interest rates affect households and another in Japan on Saturday to talk about education and skills in the region.

The Prime Minister should also take solace from leaders like Thatcher and Reagan who had very little foreign policy experience before entering office. But she has told the Australian Financial Review’s David Crowe that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating have not been shy in offering advice: “It is very hard to have a conversation with either Bob or Paul that doesn’t turn to these matters extensively”.

Just like Rudd who was known to phone stalk other leaders – supposedly switching personal mobile numbers with President Lee of Korea driving diplomats crazy – Gillard is also forging strong relations with her counterparts overseas.

She says: “I certainly feel like I’ve got to know Stephen Harper, the Canadian, quite well because he has been at all of them (summits); Cameron a fair bit; New Zealand – John I already knew quite well when he was in Opposition and have had the opportunity to interact with Obama and have had some interaction with President Hu but not a formal discussion yet.”

On the world stage these relationships matter.

The Washington Post and New York Times have both recently run pieces on who Obama considers his “genuine friends”. While Gillard – but perhaps more interestingly Rudd – was not mentioned, she says the two got on well joking about whether Question Time should be adopted in the United States amongst other things.

The Prime Minister herself acknowledged the real work “happens in the leaders-only coffee and relaxation area and the leaders-only lunches when you can get through the machinery and have a human-to-human conversation…On one level complete trivia to all of the sort of issues you would expect people to talk about”.

Being one of the few female world leaders is seemingly not distracting the Prime Minister either. “It doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable or anything like that but it does say something about our world”, she says. Of the forty-three leaders at ASEM only four were women, there are only three in the G20 and she is the sole female leader in the EAS and APEC, which she laughed off as presenting some difficulties only when they needed to stand in a rock pool for the official photo, wearing high-heels of course.

While the Prime Minister is unlikely to lead our delegation to the next United Nations climate negotiations in Mexico next month the risk now as The Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Farr has highlighted is that her travel becomes excessive in the way it did for Kevin Rudd.

If it does there is little doubt Tony Abbott will latch onto it after saying during the election campaign he doesn’t “think there is a need for the Prime Minister to be at every international talk fest”.

But despite probable trips to China and the United States early in the New Year the Prime Ministerial calendar of international summits is looking bare until mid-next year when it will become prolific once again.

For the moment at least the Prime Minister seems to be enjoying the world stage and avoiding its pitfalls unlike the Chief Executive of Hong Kong who fell asleep next to her at APEC.

“Well we have our own plane so that kind of helps” she jokes even if she did tell President Obama it was small enough to park under the wing of Air Force One!

The key difference when it comes to Rudd and Gillard as our chief diplomat is not so much their background but that the latter comes to the role with very little of a defined view on our place in the world.

That is why it is all the more important we take notice like the rest of the world is as she finds her feet.

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49 comments

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    • Against the Man says:

      05:25am | 29/11/10

      She has been deputy PM and in politics for a while, if she still has to ‘find her feet’ then may God help us all. There is a combination of not understand and not caring about foreign policy and her $500 million donation to Indonesia was not really an impressive move. Also the recent sniggers from her Asian politicos from her Asian tour with regards to bringing her ‘unmarried’ and clearly uncomfortable 1st bloke didn’t really help. We have a hopeless and shameful cause as a PM which can only continue to make foreign policy errors because incompetence is in her blood.

    • Vince says:

      06:08am | 29/11/10

      Shaking hands, smiling for the camera’s, a couple of days here and a couple of days there, a wave from the plane.. Just doing the job of PM, but we all know she would rather be sitting in a class room back home.  Kevin Rudd still appears to be be the one who is the more important on the world stage not Gillard. It’s Kevin they all want to talk to, even when Hilary was here it was Kevin the Prime Minister as she referred to him as. And it was Fraulein Gillard in Seoul.

    • Rosie says:

      07:41am | 29/11/10

      Totally agree with the above posts!

      “Gillard’s doing just fine on the world stage” but much to her disappointment the man she knifed, now Australia’s Foreign Minister is doing much much better to the extent that he makes her look soooooooo out of place amongst the real world leaders.

      Thom, I think you have been kind to our PM. You also forgot to mention that Hillary Clinton called her; “PM Rudd” in what you considered to be overshadowed by more trivial aspects.

      I think it is bad karma for the controversial way she got herself into high office! To survive the woman will need all the luck in the world!

    • Jane says:

      06:34am | 29/11/10

      Can’t help but think she is just doing and saying what she’s been told to. When it comes to foreign affairs I doubt she personally has a clue. She’s a very good “actor” and “great performer”, as we all see when she’s in her soap opera on QT. QT of course is very similar to a class room full of bullies, no wonder she is such a “brilliant performer”  there. Compared to Kevin doing TV interviews and photos of him talking with world dignitaries she looks like an amateur.

    • The Badger says:

      08:02am | 29/11/10

      Politicians are by definition “actors”.

      The difference between THE PM and the man who would be PM is that Julia can assume many roles. She’s more of a Meryl Streep

      The man who would be PM can only play one role. He’s more of a Grinch.

      Abbott by contrast to Gillard would be an embarrassment to Australia as he stumbled and stuttered his way through underdone pap.

    • Rosie says:

      09:19am | 29/11/10

      Hey Badger wrong comparison, it is Julia Gillard against my Australian elected PM whom she knifed to become PM!

      In case you have forgotten it is Kevin Rudd, who is now Foreign Minister, may I add is doing a bloody good job on the world stage than our latest factional chosen PM.

      Don’t concern yourself about Tony Abbott, he unlike your Julia Gillard doesn’t have the problem of anyone in his party that will be trying to outdo him at home or on the world stage, the least is his Deputy, also the country’s shadow Foreign Minister.

      Have a nice day!

    • steph says:

      10:04am | 29/11/10

      Rosie - I don’t quite know how you managed to be enrolled to vote in both Gillard and Rudd’s electorates, but I can assure you, both were duly elected. The party then decides the leader. ALL Labor leaders are chosen by factions. Do look up the history of the ALP at your leisure.
      Yours etc,
      Steph

    • Rosie says:

      11:38am | 29/11/10

      Steph my apologies, I don’t think you understood me or are you not wanting to realize the facts?

      It doesn’t matter how you put it because as candidates both were elected by their electorates but in Rudd’s case the party won the 2007 election as the leader of the winning party. He therefore is our PM and have always accepted that fact Labor or Liberal. I believe Rudd did it without faction help unlike Julia Gillard who overnight became our PM without the people of Australia having a say in it.

      In a democratic election we the people accept the decision of the people and the last time I looked Kevin Rudd had the rights to the Primeministership. He is therefore my & Australia’s legitimate PM.

      “Not wasting my leisure time looking up the history of a Party that needs some kind of factional group, politically assassinating the country’s elected PM, for someone else because the “polling results” weren’t to their advantage.”

      It is all happening before our very eyes! No need for reassurance!

      I quote Tony Abbott again; “the Labor brand is toxic.” I therefore believe they need to go back to square, change their leader before the next elections for a fresh start.

    • Metey says:

      12:39pm | 29/11/10

      Rosie - Rudd was heading the Labor party when they won in 2007 and therefore became PM. However, it is a legal aspect of our democratic system that either party can dump their sitting PM for a preferred candidate. Entirely democratic under our political system. If you don’t like it then either enter politics yourself and advocate to get that changed (doubt either party would be with you) or move to a country that doesn’t allow the removal of the leader. Like the US. If you don’t like either of those options then suck it up and accept they way our democratic system works. This goes for everyone still whining about how ‘poor Kev was knifed’.

    • Brad Coward says:

      02:04pm | 29/11/10

      But Badger….Meryl Streep is a CONVINCING actor !

    • Luke says:

      06:46am | 29/11/10

      Love the caption - being herself seems to be working. You can’t be serious surely, she changes who she is more often than I change my undies! I’d like to know who is “herself”  I reckon even she wouldn’t know anymore. I think the only person who would know is Tim,  the 1st bloke. But I bet even he’s getting confused with which Julia is coming home for tea each night LOL.

    • TChong says:

      07:26am | 29/11/10

      Same prob for Mrs Abbott ,Luke.
      Which one of the action jackson outfits does Mrs Abbott need to iron?
      The shower cap? the pedal pushers? the GI joe safari suit so he can go get some in Afghanistan?
      The union jack waist coat, a la Tim Brooke Taylor ? (Tony just LUVS the irrational royal romance)
      The climate change denier tin foil hat?
      Best of all she keeps ironing his Opposition suit, preferably the back bench variety, once Turnbull gets around to organising his challenge.

    • Andrew says:

      11:15am | 29/11/10

      Oh TChong, you’re so funny. I love your hatred for Tony Abbott that permeates every post you write. Even got climate change denier in there. Hahaha.

      Ever heard of Labor party failure deniers? W.A. check, Vic check, NSW (very soon), QLD (2012), Federal Labor??? Tiiiiiiimmmmber.

    • TChong says:

      11:33am | 29/11/10

      Andrew,
      Plenty of Gillard, Labor , union bashing to be had by the bucketful here, so in the spirit of Ruperts other site, I’m just adding a bit of “fair and balanced"commentries.
      You left out my reffering to Bronny B. as a would be Parrmatta mascot , or Senator Sophies Gosh, Oh Gee, ,” folks are dumb where I come from” posts. Not all of the hatred is for Abbott alone.
      No probs with that is there?
      BTW ( a bit of self indulgence here, ) I mostly post in order to boo big C conservatives, rather than cheer Labor.
      Pox on both houses, but the LNP is slightly more poxier to a treehugging , commie, socialist, Fabian public servant ( you just knew that, didnt you?)
      Cheers, to the freedom of speech.  wink

    • dinkidi says:

      02:42pm | 29/11/10

      Ah! Julia! Could you just listen to her dulcet voice for hours?  Can you imagine being one of the luckiest envoys whatever at one of those global meetings where polly after polly gets up to speak?And it is Julia’s turn. .........wonder if there is a global stampede for the nearest exit.

    • Andrew says:

      03:08pm | 29/11/10

      Damn TChong stop screwing with my assumptions. I was sure you worked in Sussex Street.

      Commie, socialist, fabian…. make up your mind.

    • Muzz says:

      07:23am | 29/11/10

      “without a single note in front of her”. ? oh please…. We’ve seen that line trotted out by Labor before when she was caught having her notes put under her nose at the Labor Campaign launch remember.

    • Judicus says:

      01:46pm | 29/11/10

      Campaign launch is a bit different to the world stage Muzz.  You Lib voters must just hate that she is doing so well.

    • Brad Coward says:

      02:06pm | 29/11/10

      More notes than Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in fact !

    • Suzy says:

      10:51pm | 29/11/10

      yes, and it is such a pity that no-one ever taught her how to pronounce ‘t’ - not as ‘d’ - a real class act on the world stage

    • Joel B1 says:

      07:34am | 29/11/10

      I’m torn between wishing she’d never come back to Australia and wishing she would.

      On one hand Australia seems to be running itself OK without the schizophrenic like, flip-flop, no carbon tax-yes carbon tax (and many others) Gillard. On the other hand the more Australians hear her the more the incredulous cries of “That’s not what you said last week!” grow.

      It’s a dilemma alright.

    • Whisperer says:

      07:51am | 29/11/10

      I think this bloke must be living in a very dark cave ,he needs to turn the candle up and see what our prime minister should be doing and that’s to impress the people of australia not the foreigners.

    • Judicus says:

      01:43pm | 29/11/10

      Not right whisperer.  Australia is not Hicksville anymore, we need to be out there and having a say and taking our place with the rest of the world.
      She should be judged by what she does domestically but also what she does and how she performs overseas and on the world stage.

    • NicoleG says:

      08:19am | 29/11/10

      Oh yes, she’s finding her feet and doing such a fabulous job. That’s why last week Hillary Clinton phone Kevin Rudd to discuss North Korea/South Korea, even informing him of the Wikileaks. Poor Julia, she’ll forever walk in the shadow of Rudd.

    • rufus says:

      09:00am | 29/11/10

      It’s no more than sympathy. Kevin and Hillary are in the same place with their careers. They each know they’d be leaders of their countries today, if not for THAT person.

    • Ross Garrad says:

      10:26am | 29/11/10

      Hillary Clinton and Kevin Rudd are foreign ministers of their respective countries, in case we forgot. This is exactly what is supposed to happen.

    • Adam Diver says:

      08:21am | 29/11/10

      “would have some significance if she wasn’t comfortable in her own skin, if it was messing with her head. But Gillard in no way is intellectually or emotionally benchmarking herself against Kevin. She’s just doing what she does to the best of her abilities.”

      Im sorry, but is that really journalism. Or is that just a massive assumption based on the authors personal beliefs, it is probably no better than most of the punch comments. To be fair it may be an opinion piece but when I click on Thoms link it takes me to a different article.

      Back on topic, Gillard was a complete embarrassment in Asia with her “regional processing centre” any other opinion of that trip should be ignored.

    • James says:

      09:02am | 29/11/10

      This chap is a moron. Gillard looks totally out of place on the world stage.

      Not a single relationship improved under Rudd’s tenure as PM but at least he looked the part.

    • Jack says:

      09:35am | 29/11/10

      When Ms Gillard leaves at home her sarcastic comments on local politics,  stops laying hands on every male or his tie she comes in contact with, she will look and sound a bit more primeministeral material.

    • Rosie says:

      10:07am | 29/11/10

      Jack she is trying to be one of the boys - the woman is a “try hard” will do anything to justify her position here at home and overseas! She probably does it to steady herself, you know feet on the ground etc. That is the way she likes to think! I reckon it makes her look cheap and nasty!

    • Jay says:

      11:01am | 29/11/10

      Rosie, she doesn’t look like “trying to be one of the boys” she looks like an outrageous flirt.

    • Suzy says:

      10:55pm | 29/11/10

      More like she follows in Rudd’s shoes - inappropriate touching as though she assumes everyone wants to be her maaaate.  Please - hands off.  Familiarity breeds contempt.

    • Brad Coward says:

      10:09am | 29/11/10

      As PM…Kevin Rudd made a very good passenger in an aeroplane.  Julia Gillard has shown that she is a better passenger in an aeroplane than Kevin Rudd.

      Keep her flying because I always get worried once the plane touches down.

    • NotConvinced says:

      10:09am | 29/11/10

      The hands in the air doesn’t convince me she has any idea of Foriegn Affairs. Kevin is still in control, Gillard is just a token PM. Hoping her constant change in personality, and changing her hair will get her through. Best actor since Bette Davis! Too busy worrying about her image and the news cycle to set a real agenda.

    • Mike says:

      10:32am | 29/11/10

      Julia should stay home and continue her performance’s in question time (that’s all she’s good at) and let Kevin rule the world. It’s been like having 2 PM’s, one for the world stage and one for QT, but between the 2 of them no one is doing the hard yards and running the country. Just 1 PM that stood for something and could deliver would be good, something we haven’t seen from Labor in 3 years.

    • Anjuli says:

      10:20am | 29/11/10

      It seems that Kevin Rudd is still or thinks he is Prime Minister ,every time I tuned in to the TV last night,there his face was on the screen of course I went for the mute button the instant I saw him. As for Julia can’t stand her either what with that monotone voice and her hands moving about it takes the mind off what she is saying ,maybe that is what she wants us to do.

    • The Badger says:

      11:31am | 29/11/10

      Could it be that Rudd was talking about foreign policy and events?

      Guess you would prefer the stuttering, bumbling Abbott as your preferred PM.

    • Judicus says:

      01:40pm | 29/11/10

      bet you think Abbott is fantastic??

    • Terry Wright says:

      10:56am | 29/11/10

      While Gillard was in Portugal, I wonder if she bothered to check out their highly successful drug policy? Portugal’s success has been steadily making news around the world and now TIME has also reported on it.

      Dr Caitlin Hughes from our National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) has just released a report that praises Portugal’s strategy and asks if Australia should consider following their lead.

      The government is currently developing their new drug policy so Julia’s visit to Portugal is perfect timing. This is a great chance to re-establish Australia as a world leader in progressive, evidence based policy making regarding the issue of illicit drugs and treatment.

      Whether she actually takes on board the evidence or instead caves in to the coalition and conservative, anti-drug zealots, is a defining moment for her in the global spotlight.

      I’m not holding my breathe though…

    • AJ says:

      11:19am | 29/11/10

      Don’t know about their drug policy but Labor clearly like the idea of Portugese economic policy.

    • Democrat says:

      11:49am | 29/11/10

      Gillard has not put a foot wrong on the so-called ‘International Stage’ since becoming PM.  Apart from the usual embittered conservative comment not one of those posting comments has been able to point out one stumble in how she has represented Australia to the world.  At least she is articulate.  The alternative PM - The Abbott - has trouble stringing a coherent sentence together - ah, um, ah ,um.
      Let’s not forget that we have often punched above our weight in international affairs - pretty much always under Labor Governments. 
      Labor forged the US Alliance in World War 11.  Labor was at the forefront of the creation of the United Nations - Labor’s Doc Evatt was the first President of the UN.  Under Evatt the UN played a key role in the creation of Israel.  Hawke was the instigator of APEC and Keating was instrumental in making it a Head of Government meeting.
      Let’s dispense with the conservative crap about the coalition having exclusive expertise in foreign affairs.  History shows otherwise.

    • Andrew says:

      03:12pm | 29/11/10

      Truly amusing. I’m guessing you believe that Labor has been responsible for all that is good in Australia and no-one else has ever contributed anything.

      As for not putting a foot wrong. C’mon, you can’t put a foot wrong if you don’t take a step.

      How’s that regional processing centre going??

      hehehehe

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      12:42pm | 29/11/10

      I just wish she would go overseas again & stay there!
      She would be entitled to dual nationality so she could go back to the place of her birth: Wales. They might employ her as their First Minister in the Welsh Parliament if they have one yet! If not she could go on the dole. Oooops, no she couldn’t for she would still collect heaps from us poor Australian Taxpayers!

    • Judicus says:

      12:45pm | 29/11/10

      My goodness all the Lib supporters are out and about today.  Whether you like it or not she’s actually doing okay.  So what if silly Hillary called her Rudd.  Rudd is doing a fine job and so is Julia.  Amazing to see all these people sticking up for Rudd, but when he was in there wasn’t one person around who wanted him there or who would vote for him.  Rose…....Rudd isn’t the PM of Australia.  You can put it any way you like, but it still won’t make him PM.  End of story.

    • Rosie says:

      03:51pm | 29/11/10

      Judicus wrong Rudd had my respect and every other Australian PM except for the back stabbing, atheist, living with her boyfriend in the Lodge Julia Gillard who we are still waiting for some kind of governance instead of justifying the reasons why she should remain in power.

      She announced today that 2011 will be a year of decision making and delivery of the decision her government will make! For goodness sake, the woman has just realized that it is the actual job of any Govt, decide and deliver. She also emphasied her Govt will not be campaigning and no political agendas! Seconds later she started ranting on about Tony Abbott! Gillard is not afraid of Tony Abbott wrecking the Labor policies because there ain’t any. She is dead scared of Tony Abbott wrecking her career because when she is finished she will be remembered as Australia worst PM.

      So far all she has tried to fix is the “hangover” from the Rudd Govt, no ideas of her own!

    • Jane says:

      12:47pm | 29/11/10

      With John Howard it was all about whether you agreed with his decisions and policies, with Gillard it’s all about how good she looks, sounds and performs for the camera. Says it all really.

    • The Badger says:

      01:32pm | 29/11/10

      Whatever turns you one Jane

      Sounds like you are for same sex marriage.

    • Graham The Great says:

      04:16pm | 29/11/10

      All crap, simply you don’t know which joolya is there, the old one, the new one, the re-invented one, who cares, I suppose now we can call her joolya A380, kinda similar to each other?

    • Daniel says:

      06:22pm | 30/11/10

      Gillard is looking good on the world stage. What does the Australian media expet from this poor woman? She has been in power for less than 1 term. I wish they would get off her back.

 

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