Ducks line up for Rudd’s UN pitch

11/06/2009 - 00:00


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Rumours of Kevin Rudd’s plans for life after The Lodge won’t go away.

Ducks line up for Rudd’s UN pitch

AFTER the usual good-natured greetings, a long-time mate, whom State Scene meets only irregularly these days, invariably asks about the gossip around town.

Like most, he likes hearing the latest titbits, after which our conversations become more elevated by either discussing the latest books we've read or what we've been writing.

Now, the latest Canberra goss first surfaced early last year. I'm referring to the ongoing rumours that Kevin Rudd is keener than ever to snare that top paying tax-free United Nations job in New York.

Ever more well-informed people are coming to the view he's becoming bored with being just a prime minister - and of Australia.

Kevin09 isn't the same man as Kevin07.

As Kevin08 he began scanning the horizon, and The Big Apple looked immediately appealing.

I mean to say, after downing two Liberal leaders - firstly, John Howard and then Brendan Nelson, who never even reached an election campaign - and snuffing out number three, Malcolm Turnbull, to fairly inconsequential polling levels, what's there left to do?

If Mr Rudd could instead be based in New York he'd be close to Washington DC, Chinese and other diplomats, and the swishiest cocktail circuit around.

Moreover, he'd be flying to every international trouble spot, making high-flying pronouncements about humanity, peacekeeping, and pontificating about humanity's aspirations, yearnings and ideals.

What satisfying experiences, speaking for all humankind, not only for 22 million Australians.

He'd have joined the truly exclusive UN secretaries-general such as Kofi Annan (Ghanaian, 1997-2007) and now South Korean, Ban Ki-Moon.

Such a prestigious appointment would certainly distinguish him from all previous Australian PMs since none ever came close to ascending such stratospheric heights.

Not even his hero, Gough Whitlam, who was briefly Australian ambassador to Unesco, would match him.

Increasing numbers of gossipers are now suggesting Canberra isn't big enough for Mr Rudd, and that he's wanting to move on because he has no friends in the Labor Party.

Regular State Scene readers may recall that this question was highlighted and analysed in this column on April 23.

However, that drew on earlier revelations of Mr Rudd's internationalist aspirations, penned by former Western Australian, John Stone, who first reported on it in the spring (October) 2008 issue of the Council for the National Interest's journal, National Observer.

Among other things his article, titled 'The Future of Mr Kevin Rudd', said: "Rumours circulating in Canberra in early 2008 to the effect that Mr Rudd was now bent on becoming the next Secretary-General of the UN were of course just that - rumours.

"If he did harbor that ambition, it would go far towards explaining much that has been inexplicable in his behaviour."

Mr Stone was once Treasury secretary and a Queensland National Party senator, meaning his contact network spreads far, wide, and deep.

He knows many current and retired senior bureaucrats - each with their own goss networks - and current and retired politicians, plus journalists.

So it's not surprising it was he who broke the story of Mr Rudd's alleged UN aspirations.

However, since April this year, when State Scene reported a possible Rudd relocation to New York, The Australian's foreign affairs columnist, Greg Sheridan, has stepped in on this interesting story.

Three weeks after State Scene's column on the Rudd-UN conundrum, so on May 14, Mr Sheridan's column, headlined 'Today the Lodge tomorrow the World' and sub-headed 'The PM's foreign policy may have an ulterior motive: a move from Canberra to New York', expanded on the issue.

"What is Kevin Rudd planning to do after his stint as prime minister?" Mr Sheridan wrote.

"In the past few weeks I've heard from three quite credible sources that the PM has given a lot of thought to having a shot at becoming the UN secretary-general."

Although he's understandably not named his informants, he added: "But take my word for it, each is a source you'd normally give a lot of credibility to.

"Each is in a position to know quite a lot about this sort of subject."

His column then listed three interesting developments, which appear to confirm a hoped for Rudd move to New York.

The first says that the budget carried an $11 million spending item to "promoting our [Australia's] candidacy for the UN Security Council term of 2013-14."

The second is that the Rudd government, at the height of the global financial crisis and growing unemployment, has boosted its aid outlays to Africa to a whopping and no doubt targeted $165 million.

"But the most intriguing is that we are spending $9.2 million during the next two years to promote nuclear disarmament," Sheridan continued.

"A good deal of that will be spent on the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which Rudd set up last year.

"In budgetary terms this is all piddling money, but in terms of advancing a political, or indeed, personal agenda such sums can be quite effective."

State Scene and no doubt Mr Stone would agree with that assessment.

However, neither he nor I could possibly agree with Mr Sheridan's last two paragraphs.

"I think it's clear that the only possible career move that makes sense from the Lodge is to UN headquarters on New York's East River," he wrote.

"You heard it here first."

No, Mr Sheridan.

I first read of it last October, after receiving my copy of the spring 2008 issue of National Observer, in which Mr Stone reported what his goss network was saying.

If new Liberal foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, had read that journal late last year, or even State Scene of April 23 2009, she'd have been well ahead of the eight ball, and way out in front of Mr Sheridan.

Instead, at 3.09pm on May 14, the day the Sheridan article came off the presses, she rose in parliament at question time and said: "My question is to the Prime Minister.

"At a time when the government is plunging this nation into record debt, why should tens of millions of dollars of additional taxpayers' money be spent on a vote-buying spree in Africa and Latin America to support the prime minister's personal ambition of a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council?

"Are Australians paying for his job application as UN secretary-general?"

Labor MPs angrily interjected. A raw nerve appeared to have been struck.

Mr Rudd rose and waffled on as only he can to delay getting to the point.

When he finally got there he said: "Though I know the journalist in question and have had a long-standing good relationship with him, this article is entirely a fabrication, and I question why it was produced in the way in which it was."

State Scene's money is on the gossip grapevines of John Stone and Greg Sheridan, not Mr Rudd's weak attempt to hose down what they've heard and reported.


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