Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

The Downfall of Australia's Kevin Rudd

Then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and then-Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrive at the 45th National Labor Conference on July 30, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and then-Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrive at the 45th National Labor Conference on July 30, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

By Rowan Callick

The downfall of Kevin Rudd as Australian Prime Minister is a result of his arrogant style, of a series of poor policy choices, and of the failure of his government to implement policies effectively.

Crucially, he achieved power against the odds as something of a loner within the Australian Labor Party, but this also ensured that on the way down there was little capacity to rally support among the MPs who decided his fate.

He will now become a post script in Australian history, with his successor Julia Gillard instantly achieving fame, as the country's first woman prime minister.

In terms of Australia's international relations, Rudd proved surprisingly disappointing. His three key aims were all multilateral: winning a place on the United Nations Security Council, creating a new Asia-Pacific Community, and winning global support for his commission to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, headed by former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans.

The first appears unlikely, the second now discarded as ASEAN resumes its role as the region's sole hub, and the third has been overtaken by the disarmament process inaugurated by Barack Obama in Washington in April, which Rudd failed to attend.

Rudd's multilateral focus tended to suck the oxygen from Australia's diplomatic capacity and resources. And, Australia's bilateral relations in its own region have consequently suffered, especially with India and Japan.

Rudd put more effort into maintaining strong links with Indonesia. But his Chinese language skills and understanding of China did not prevent a series of serious problems tripping up that relationship last year, although they are now back on track, with heir apparent Xi Jinping visiting this week - the third member of the Politburo standing committee to come to Australia within 15 months.

Julia Gillard has in recent years become a keen member of the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue that has led the engagement of the two countries' elites, and is very comfortable about this relationship. Last year she led the first Australia-Israel Dialogue in Israel.

Her focus will be on trying to retrieve Labor's electoral fortunes, with a poll due in the next eight months. She will have little time for international relations, giving more scope for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to take autonomous decisions than under Rudd, who attempted to micro-manage international affairs.

Rowan Callick is The Australian newspaper's Asia-Pacific Editor. He wrote this for Asia Society.