Kevin Rudd, the backbencher from Queensland? No such thing. In his own mind, he’s still Foreign Minister. Prime Minister, too.
Rudd turned up in the United States last week and addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It’s a talk that should have been given by his replacement, Bob Carr.
If Australia knows that Rudd is no longer the Prime Minister, or Foreign Minister, the rest of the world does not. Because Rudd is still roaming it, acting as though he is.
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Every government has its own tone and character. It is a product of the party in government, its values, philosophy, and directions. But it is also a product of the character and values of the person who leads it.
Compare the Fraser and Howard governments, or the Whitlam, Hawke, Keating or Rudd/Gillard governments. Governments of the same political persuasion can vary greatly.
What would be the tone and character of an Abbott government? Much attention has been given to the direct, cut-through approach of the Leader of the Opposition in media interviews, parliamentary debates and in question time. But little attention has been given to more significant matters. One is the manner in which he interacts with colleagues, and the other his instinctive values.
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It’s been a tough few weeks for Julia Gillard. She was accused of pre-election lying over carbon pricing, demonised at a comical fringe-dwelling rally, and conservative radio hosts competed over who can be most disrespectful towards her.
Gillard’s incompetence at foreign affairs is another area of criticism that’s becoming louder every overseas visit she makes. She was widely criticised for not advocating strongly enough the government’s support for the no-fly zone over Libya, and her first visit to America was eminently forgettable, including an unnecessarily emotional and ham-laden address to Congress.
The consensus is that Gillard is an international lightweight incapable of advocating the government’s position. But what Gillard’s critics fail to understand is that her weakness in foreign affairs is inconsequential.
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“Out, damned spot! out” moaned the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth after the murders committed to ensure that Kingship came to Macbeth. “What will these hands never be clean”.
“Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”.
And yet the “spot” seemed to be worn as a badge of honour on Sunday morning TV with the newly anointed Prime Minister choosing Joan Kirner giant polka dot jacket to begin her reign.
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Listening to ABC Local Radio a few weeks ago, I heard the former Minister John Brown saying John Howard should take a leaf out of the book of his predecessor Stanley Bruce who, when he lost his seat and lost government simultaneously in 1929, “had the decency to go and hide under a rock for the rest of his life”.
Now Mr Brown – a man who must sometimes be frustrated that his own political career tends to be summed up by the average punter as “had sex on his Ministerial desk with his wife, didn’t he?” - really should have known better.
The National Archives of Australia are opening an exhibition about Bruce this week, and I hope it will do something to change the public awareness of a man whose post-political career was if anything more distinguished than his time at the head of government.
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