Rudd not a Caucus winner, but an expert on talkfests
Striding along Rome’s Piazza Navona in late September, his “Nikon necklace’’ bouncing off his chest as a sign of a duty-free camera indulgence, was Paul Keating.
He was, he told a group of Australians, constantly being stopped by Australian tourists who wanted a chat and to get in a photo with him.
It was suggested to him he was having the same public popularity problems as Kevin Rudd.
“Yeah, but in my case it’s real,” said Keating with a grin, just before shoving off back into the piazza’s late afternoon pedestrian traffic.
It was thumbs down from an ex-ceasar to a later one.
That wasn’t merely a joke fueled by Keating’s considerable vanity. Kevin Rudd is a long way from being a folk hero, even in his own party.
The popularity of Foreign Minister Rudd has led to him being mobbed overseas by tourists and earned him invitations to functions with Labor back benchers.
But it hasn’t gained him the substantial commitment of Caucus members he would need to return as Prime Minister.
There is considerable resistance to him within the Government, despite the basement depths of Julia Gillard’s public rating. Influential trade union figures are well short of backing him.
Polls show him strongly ahead of Julia Gillard as preferred Labor leader, but usually the breakdown shows this isn’t the case among Labor voters.
The Kevin issue will arise again this week in Perth during the summit of Commonwealth leaders, CHOGM.
Foreign Ministers usually drop in for two or three days. It’s the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, after all, not the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Kevin Rudd will be there for six days, crowding the official space occupied by Prime Minister Gillard.
There are some special circumstances. Cabinet meets in Perth today and Rudd has to be there for that.
The summit is in Australia so a Foreign Minister might be expected to share some of the hosting duties. And it will be a good chance for Rudd to consult people who otherwise might be an international flight away.
Accepting that, there still are Rudd watchers shaking their heads over the length of his Perth stay.
Also causing comment is the dimensions of the switch in the minister’s focus.
Once, it was the campaign to secure Australia a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council, a must-have position according to Rudd, who threw his usual enthusiasm into the task.
However, energy and resources are now being diverted from that task to the new Rudd must-have: the Global China Dialogue.
The first of these dialogues will be held on the Gold Coast next year and the minister has senior DFAT people organizing the event, and putting the bite on corporations to help the funding.
Rudd’s ambition is make the Gold Coast the place to be, once a year, for these attempting to get insight into how China is and will be dominating the global economy.
“Over time, I see the Global China Dialogue becoming the annual international forum of choice on China,” he said in September.
This is the new Rudd passion.
He might not conquer Caucus, but this is the event he wants to leave behind to prove he came, he saw, he conferenced.
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