by Richard Woolcott
The challenge to Kevin Rudd's prime ministership and his replacement by his deputy, Julia Gillard, recently was a ruthless, but highly efficient, political operation. It is important now to consider the implications for Australian foreign, security and trade policy, especially for Australia's role in Asia and the Pacific.
Rudd was a leader of energy and dedication to improving Australia's international standing. I was his special envoy tasked to develop his concept of an Asia Pacific community. This enabled me to observe his contribution at close quarters over some nine meetings since June 2008, including at the East Asian summit meeting in Thailand last October and Asia Pacific community conference in Sydney last December.
He demonstrated exceptional skills. While he was demanding, I never witnessed the anger, disdain and bad language about which a number of journalists and politicians wrote or spoke. He seemed to have boundless energy and drove himself very hard. He was imaginative and often visionary in analyzing situations and shaping policy approaches to them.
Rudd has some substantial domestic and foreign achievements to his credit. His major foreign policy success was having the G-20 established as the major institution to deal with the global financial crisis last year. Australia is now at the top table when global economic and financial issues are considered. There are still concerns, especially in Europe that the global recovery is fragile.
Another achievement is the gradual recognition that more effective arrangements, now acknowledged by ASEAN, need to be developed to deal with present and future political and security issues in the Asia Pacific region. This is an advance of major importance. Rudd also developed strong and productive personal links with US President Barack Obama and Asian leaders, especially President Lee Lee Myung-bak of South Korea and Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung.
While the Gillard Government will not have his services, at least until after the next general election should the Government be returned. And, while its focus over the next few months will be on the election, it still faces a formidable foreign, security and trade policy agenda. The absence of Rudd does mean, however, that Foreign and Trade Minister Stephen Smith and relevant government departments, in particular the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will now play a greater role in advising on and shaping the Gillard Government's policies in this field.