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Making friends for the long term

THE Rudd government has now held power for 16 months, long enough for some tentative judgments to be made.

Only one writer, former Nationals senator, previously Treasury secretary, John Stone, has hinted in print that Kevin Rudd may be treating his prime ministership in what can be called a duel-track manner.

Mr Stone, in a recent National Observer article titled, The Future of Mr Kevin Rudd, wrote: "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 harbour that ambition, it would go far towards explaining much that has been inexplicable in his behaviour."

It's quite conceivable Mr Rudd has decided to try to hold his position for an already predetermined period, like three recent long-serving Labor premiers - Queensland's Peter Beattie; New South Wales' Bob Carr; and Victoria's Steve Bracks - and to also use that time to lay the basis for a fall-back position like, for example, a prestigious UN job.

That, after all, is what recently ousted New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark did; she now heads the United Nations Development Programme, being appointed unanimously by the 192-member General Assembly.

If it's good enough for a Kiwi why not a banana bender?

To ensure Mr Rudd can arrange being parachuted in similar fashion in several years, he's probably decided it's essential he begins cultivating and maintaining cordial relations with as many foreign leaders as possible.

That would mean he'd be able to call upon them or their governments in about 2015 to back him for a big-paying tax-free job.

It's most unlikely that Mr Rudd and wife, Thérèse, would be content in some plush seaside residence living off the millions she's made from those government contracts as an employment agency proprietor.

Now, the outcome for Australia of such a double-track approach to the prime ministership shouldn't be seen as necessarily bad or unacceptable, though there could be downsides if a prime minister put number one first and foremost with Australia slotted into second spot.

It must be said, however, that it would be extremely difficult to prove if such an arranging of preferences was undertaken since a hidden career agenda can so easily be portrayed as acting in the national interest.

Moreover, keeping on good terms with near, not so near, and distant nations and their leaders is something Australia has been doing for decades.

Just because Australia wasn't on cordial terms with certain regimes - all of them intensely anti-democratic and criminal, it must be stressed - doesn't disprove that contention.

Australia, with its longstanding traditions of parliamentary democracy, independent judiciary, respect for human rights, freedom of association and the press, could not have snuggled up Marxist-Leninist regimes that existed either before World War II or had that warlike inhumane ideology forcibly imposed after 1945.

Leftists - including, especially, academics inclined that way - relish the opportunity to portray Australia as having played second fiddle to the US since 1945, three years after we were saved in the nick of time from Japanese occupation.

What such ideologues deliberately ignore is that Australians and Americans share those values mentioned above.

Australia has, at times, felt compelled to respond similarly to other nations that weren't totalitarian, like, for instance, Sukarno's Indonesia, when it moved militarily in the 1960s against its neighbour and Australian ally, Malaysia, over Borneo.

Where Mr Rudd seems to be somewhat different is that the eventual snaring of an international job could be at the forefront of his thinking.

It's not a common path for Australian PMs to take.

Robert Menzies retired to his Melbourne home. Even though the Queen, in 1966, appointed him as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports,that was essentially a ceremonial post.

John Gorton, although bitter and twisted about his 1971 demise, also remained in Australia, as did his successor, William McMahon.

Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, Labor's Gough Whitlam became Australia's ambassador to Unesco.

But his nemesis, Victorian western districts grazier, Malcolm Fraser, stayed on the farm.

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, both now big charging international consultants, including for Chinese interests, have shown themselves to be satisfied with their new careers.

And it's difficult to imagine John Howard sitting in some high-rise office on Manhattan or on the shores of Lake Geneva overseeing an international agency, even though his foreign minister, Alexander Downer, an ex-diplomat like Mr Rudd, and now also a Canberra lobbyist, is a part-time envoy in Cyprus.

It's Mr Downer's post-parliamentary career and Mr Whitlam's Unesco sojourn that provide probably the best guide to Mr Rudd's aspirations.

Former diplomats are so accustomed to international gabfests that they quickly show withdrawal symptoms if not attending at least one a month.

They seem to believe such often quite vacuous events are crucially important.

And if queried on this they'll invariably quote Winston Churchill's quip, "It's better to jaw, jaw jaw, than war, war, war."

It's certainly difficult to envisage Mr Rudd departing The Lodge and going too long without skipping from one such gabfest to another

In his case there's also the fact that he served as a diplomat in Sweden, a country with a powerful social democratic party that Labor has for years sought to model Australia upon.

True, the Swedes put a high premium on national security but stayed aloof from Nato despite being closer to Moscow than are London, Rome and Bonn.

If his Stockholm days had the impact some suspect, this perhaps not only suggests moves towards an eventual, even if gradual, parting from the American alliance.

Mr Rudd certainly opposed Australia's commitment to assisting American forces in Iraq.

On the other hand, he's strongly committed to the Afghanistan Nato-backed venture. This apparent contradiction is far from that.

According to one summary of Sweden's international stance: "Sweden participates actively in the United Nations, including as an elected member of the Security Council (1957-1958, 1975-1976 and 1997-1998), and other multilateral organisations.

"The strong interest of the Swedish government and people in international cooperation and peacemaking has been supplemented in the early 1980s by renewed attention to Nordic and European security questions."

That appears to align moderately well with Ruddism.

Where Mr Rudd is of concern is that he's also chosen to abide by Labor's longstanding view of authoritarian China.

Clearly those secret Canberra visits by China's security and intelligence, and propaganda, media and ideology officials, Zhou Yongkang and Li Changchun respectively, suggest he intends to continue snuggling up to Beijing's unelected power elite, something the Howard government was certainly not inclined to do.

Whether that's designed to encourage China to back a future Rudd bid for a UN job or because he believes it's best that Australia begins realigning towards China's traditional tributary system approach to foreigners, only time will tell.

It may, of course, be both.

If China is destined to become the superpower that casts a dark shadow across our corner of the world, as so many presently predict, Mr Rudd may well believe the Swedish way is the way ahead.

And if, along the way, Beijing should back a bid for a UN job, so much the better.

Some call that non-alignment. Others see it as two-bob each way.

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