By Daryl McCann
Posted 4 Feb 2016, 8:58am
Photo: Kevin Rudd is said to be hoping to replace Ban Ki-moon as the Secretary General of the United Nations. (Chip East : Reuters)
A similar criticism, paradoxically enough, might now be made of certain Coalition politicians, including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who are considering backing Kevin Rudd's bid to replace Ban Ki-moon as the Secretary General of the United Nations at the end of 2016.
Michael Costa, former minister in a NSW Labor government, is not the only Labor stalwart to quip that are plenty of people who still respect Rudd but only because there are people who are yet to work with him. Fifty-seven members of the federal ALP caucus knew exactly the kind of character Rudd was but nevertheless returned him to the Lodge - the most responsible and important position in the land - hoping that the electioneering magic of Kevin 07 had not been entirely exhausted.
On regaining the prime ministership, Rudd claimed that three years in the political wildness - OK, winging around the world as foreign minister - had resulted in a character transformation: a "new humility". A few tried to convince themselves it was true, even if the facts pointed in entirely the opposite direction. Let's face it, by June 2013 Labor knew Rudd was a danger to Australia and yet 57 members of the Caucus voted him back into power.
To the extent there is a job specification for the position of UN Secretary General, Rudd does not fit the bill. The UN's risibly short memorandum calls for candidates with "the highest standards of efficiency, competency and integrity" along with "proven leadership and managerial abilities". The character assessment made by the full spectrum of Kevin Rudd's own party and advisors alone should disqualify him from consideration for the top UN job.
So why are members of Prime Minister Turnbull's Government threatening to foist Rudd not only on Australia but also on the entire world? Despite their obvious differences as politicians, Turnbull and Rudd are both aficionados of the art of triangulation. There is nothing wrong per se with operating from the middle of the political spectrum, and I have argued before that there are advantages in PM Turnbull shifting the Coalition towards the centre.
"Hopefully Turnbull's version of centrist politics retains its capacity to distinguish between reasonableness and hollow opportunism."
The risk of triangulation, however, is that endlessly positioning between genuinely competing views can signify not reasonableness but hollow opportunism. Take, for instance, Rudd's changeability on the issue of comprehensive border control. Obviously there were mistakes in the way Rudd went about dismantling Howard's Pacific Solution, something acknowledged even by some on the left.
Shortly before Rudd was forced out of the prime ministership, Julia Gillard identified "loss of control of borders" - according to an email disclosed in Troy Bramston's Rudd, Gillard and Beyond (2014) - as a key problem for the first Rudd administration. Come June 2013, though, and Rudd was tacking to the right of Gillard's Pacific Solution II and to the left of Tony Abbott's Operation Sovereign Borders with an irresponsible warning about a war with Indonesia.
Perhaps all this positioning and re-positioning and supplementary re-positioning is Rudd merely trying to "get the balance right". Or, more likely, the fellow is a hollow opportunist who does not stand for anything except his own self-advancement. Here we begin to see the conjunction of grand narcissism and capriciousness culminating in a dysfunctional leadership style. This, of course, is not exactly what the endemically dysfunctional United Nations requires right now.
Which leads us back to the question of why members of the Turnbull Government would countenance Rudd's candidacy for the top job at the United Nations in the first place. On the surface, at least, it might seem statesman-like of the Coalition to accommodate the aspirations of a former political adversary. It might give the appearance of bipartisanship and reaching across the political aisle, but it is a mirage.
Lending any kind of support to the vaulting ambition of a man whose career already exemplifies the Peter Principle par excellence would not only be an act of narrow political calculation but of great irresponsibility. Hopefully Turnbull's version of centrist politics retains its capacity to distinguish between reasonableness and hollow opportunism.
Some might argue that Rudd remains a long shot and so a bout of feel-good nationalism on the part Julie Bishop et al for "our Kev" won't do any damage. Still, we must always expect the unexpected in the opaque realm of international bureaucracy.
Australia will have a lot to answer for in the decade ahead if, later this year, Kevin Rudd's name gets pulled out of the hat.
Daryl McCann writes regularly for Quadrant and the Salisbury Review. Visit his blog.