Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rudd, Turnbull and the UN - anatomy of a fiasco

I haven't quite known what to think of Mr Rudd's UN bid, nor indeed what attitude the Australian Government should take towards it.

A long time ago now I wrote about the problems I saw in Mr Rudd's management style. He has become a polarising figure within his own party and more broadly within Australia.  At the same time, I have never doubted his intellect, his capacity for hard work, his very genuine and deep interest in international affairs and in the UN. I have also admired his ability to move on.

Looking at the way events have unfurled, the first question I asked myself was whether Mr Rudd was a credible candidate. The second was would his nomination embarrass Australia. My answer to the first question was yes, the answer to the second no. I also asked myself whether or not Mr Rudd might do some good in the role. My answer here was yes.

I then tried to think about the Australian position. From an Australia foreign policy perspective, was Mr Rudd the best candidate? I am not a foreign policy expert.  My feeling was quite possibly not. Here I am a little biased. I have a personal preference for former NZ PM Helen Clarke.

The question then was would an Australian nomination of Mr Rudd lock Australia into supporting him? I didn't know. It is the UN that makes the decision. In this first "contested" appointment, it would be good for the UN to have a wide choice. My gut judgement was that Australia could nominate Mr Rudd to provide choice without having to commit to his candidature. Later, the letters released suggested that Mr Rudd was asking for very little in the way of support. The scope was there for a nomination, for appropriate support without fully committing.

The events that finally unfolded throw a dark light on the maturity and judgement of Australia's political players. Within both Labor and Coalition parties, there were examples of the way in which past political angst affected a decision that should have had nothing to do with that angst. I have commented before on the inward parochial nature of Australia's political debate, the way in which that becomes the whole world ignoring broader issues.

The official expert recommendation from the Foreign Minister was effectively rejected by a Cabinet and Coalition parties unable to distinguish personality from policy and national interest. The inability of Cabinet to decide, to leave the issue to the PM, was a failure for Cabinet and PM. And then we have the final extraordinary result where the PM responded by rejecting Mr Rudd on the grounds that he was not suitable for the role in ways that can only be described as humiliating.

Let's be clear on this. It is the UN that makes the decision.  In a way, the Australian Government is like the recruitment consultant putting forward a candidate for the job. The employer has to maker the judgement. These events have humiliated Mr Rudd and embarrassed Australia. Neither deserved that.  


Anonymous said...

Yes. Total fiasco. I'm no fan of Rudd - think he's a narcissistic sociopath - but if the Foreign Minister has recommended him, then you follow through.

Also a fan of Helen Clark. Hope she gets it.


Anonymous said...

Words mean something, or they don't. I cannot argue with LE's description of Rudd as a "narcissistic sociopath", although I'm sure it's a little extreme. So, how would we look to the world if we nominated such a personality?

I think the greater fault was MT seemingly giving KR some hope of support several months ago; if he did, he has either no spine, or lacks judgment (again).

Agree with you both re Helen Clark - a most impressive person.


Evan said...

I think Helen Clarke would be good too. And don't much like Rudd either.

And I agree with you Jim that the way it was done reflects badly on the government and its processes.

Anonymous said...

Glenn Stevens: "Well, while we appreciate that Bernie Madoff has been a bit roguish, it behoves us to follow respected protocol, and nominate him for Chairman of the Wold Bank. And if I might proffer a personal opinion, I've always thought that Julian Assange would do superbly as chief of CIA; grasp of computers, and all that."

Any "recruitment officer" putting forward KR for that job deserves ridicule. And unemployment.


2 tanners said...

I may be completely wrong in all of the following.

I don't think that Rudd stood a chance (a) against a female candidate with at least equal cred from the same region, who have never had anyone in the big chair; and (b) without significant increases to the aid budget to move some of the blocs that would otherwise vote for someone else.

I don't like Rudd's management style, even if I won't go as far as LE, but this could have been handled so much better. Unless the actual objective was to humiliate Rudd at a cost to Australia's reputation as a serious player.

Anonymous said...

"Australia's reputation as a serious player" - seriously?

I mean, I know we're good at cricket, and avoiding sharks, etc. - but in what alternate universe is it that we are considered "a serious player"?

And how is our (unfortunately delayed and mishandled) decision not to visit Rudd upon the world anything but correct? It might not be "what's done" according to the book of let's-assume-he-will-have-an-epiphany, but please let's keep some sort of vague grasp on reality.


Anonymous said...

"mulligan": A mulligan is a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder.

So, I agree that it would be "a fiasco" to give KR another 'do-over' with Australian support :)


Ernie Tucker said...

I agree with Jim's analysis. Barnaby Joyce made things worse by revealing that cabinet did not support Rudd's application. How was Turnbull taken in to accept that poisoned chalice?

Jim Belshaw said...

I said in the post that Mr Rudd was a polarising figure. The comments illustrate that.

kvd, I think that your comments are over the top. There seems to be general agreement that the process followed was flawed. When we go beyond this, you are making judgements on Mr Rudd that are, I think, unbalanced. Would you seriously compare Mr Rudd to Bernie Madoff? Yes, you are using hyperbole, but that doesn't make your comment sensible.

Regardless of one's views about the man, and I have been critical of him including his very early performance in the foreign affairs space, but Mr Rudd is a serious player. He is also a former PM and deserves a measure of respect for that role. And, yes, I would say the same thing about Mr Abbott about whom I have greater doubts.

I agree with 2t that what has happened does do some damage to Australia's reputation as a serious player. Again, your response here seems unbalanced. Do you really believe just what you said?

In all this, I stand by my final remark on the post: "These events have humiliated Mr Rudd and embarrassed Australia. Neither deserved that."

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ernie and thanks. Barnaby's comments surprised me a little. It wasn't so much that there was disagreement in cabinet, that was clear, but commenting on it wasn't helpful. Among other things, it really raised the question of why the whole matter was apparently left to a "captain's pick."

Obviously, I wasn't present, but this was actually very strange. In the past, when you have a divided cabinet, the PM finally steps in, summarises, and then says this is what we will do. If there is then total opposition, he resummarises and may change his position. But cabinet finally makes a decision that then binds people to respect cabinet confidentiality. This was just so messy that it raises questions about cabinet and Government performance.

Anonymous said...

"narcissistic sociopath" was the term used by, I believe, that normally well balanced, non-judgmental, lawyerly-type person - LE. To which I replied that "I'm sure it's a little extreme".

So let's go from there Jim, and let's please not confuse your sometimes over-emphasis upon 'proper process' with the plain fact that the man by all accounts (that I have read thus far) was a bad fit for an important job.

That Australia decided to not support or provide nomination is, imo, laudatory - if painfully (to the man) belated.

Now waffle on about "process" and "our place in the world" all you like, but them's the facts.


2 tanners said...

in what alternate universe is it that we are considered "a serious player"?

The one where we think we are good enough for a seat on the Security Council, in which role Ms Bishop performed admirably. Serious player, kvd, not world power, not giant killer, not anything except serious. And the space in which our Government usually likes to say it operates.

I pointed out above that really Rudd didn't have a snowflake's chance in Hell in present circumstances. The Government had many options - simply say that they were deciding not to support an Australian in this round, endorse Rudd's nomination but refuse to provide lobbying services etc (which is a kiss of death) or reveal confidential briefings and then Cabinet disputes, where eventually MT gets *told* he has to make the decision. And implicitly what that decision is. MT scored a bucketful of humiliation as well IMHO.

Anonymous said...

tanners, I agreed with your earlier comment, and agree even more so with your latest as to the mishandled process. But neither of your posts address the fact that all we know of KR's style and record of governance should have lead to his nomination being an impossibility right from the get-go.

As to Jim's 'concern' over my comparison of Rudd to Madoff - if I wished to compliment Jim I might refer to him as "the Bradman of blogging" - which is not a likening of the two men, more a comparison of their abilities in their respective fields. So I would repeat that (from what we've seen of KR's performance in the field of collegiate governance) KR is to good governing as Madoff is to fiscal rectitude, and Assange is to the keeping of secrets.

tanners, your points are well made, and I completely agree.


Jim Belshaw said...

Returning to you comment briefly, kvd. The transcript of Mr Turnbull's press conference on the matter is here - There he said in part after noting that Australia would not be nomination anyone for the post:

"I’m not going to go into the discussion in the Cabinet. The threshold point with this - and look, I do not want to add to Mr Rudd's disappointment, I do not want to add to his disappointment - but the threshold question here, when the Australian Government nominates a person for a job, particularly an international job like this, the threshold question is: Do we believe the person, the nominee, the would-be nominee is well suited for that position? My judgement is that Mr Rudd is not and I've explained to him the reasons why. I don't want to go into them here today."

In his letter to the PM of 2 May Mr Rudd wrote in part in advance of Cabinet consideration of the matter:

"You will understand therefore how shocked I was to receive your telephone call within the last couple of hours,just prior to your taking the matter to Cabinet in Canberra. In your telephone call you said that neither you nor the Cabinet would be supporting my nomination. When I asked the reasons for this, you said that neither you nor the Cabinet has the view that "I had the qualifications for the position". You will appreciate that you have never expressed that view to me in the multiple conversations we have had on this matter on the past."

So it would appear clear that Mr Turnbull had formed his view in advance of the Cabinet meeting and had no doubt discussed it with colleagues. One can question the wisdom, perhaps, of Mr Rudd then proceeding, but it does look messy.

In his press conference part reported above, Mr Turnbull tried to be careful, but in so doing and notwithstanding his apparent desire to avoid unnecessary distress to Mr Rudd, he left the matter open in a way that everybody would read into it their perceptions of Mr Rudd's failings. I do not think that was just.

I am not in a position to make a judgement on Mr Rudd's suitability, although I have previously expressed my own views on what I perceive to be Mr Rudd's weaknesses. I note that others including the present Foreign Minister as well as former Foreign Minister Evans do not appear to regard those weaknesses as an insuperable obstacle.

So I don't know in all this. Oddly, it may not be the end of the story. It is open to another country to nominate him.

Anonymous said...

Which particular comment of mine are you "returning to" Jim?

Was it the one where I quoted LE's "narcissistic sociopath" - which I must note was echoed by Kristina Keneally's "sociopathic narcissist", and that "her pet labrador would be more qualified"? Or was it the one where I said "by all accounts (that I have read thus far)"?

But if you feel yourself "not in a position to make a judgement" then your post becomes a commentary upon the process only - and we are, it seems, unanimous in our personal opinions as to that, so why the angst?

Out of all of this, the thing which intrigues me most is just what was the specific advice Ms Bishop both received, and then gave, in support of KR's backing? But we shall, of course, never know.


2 said...

I think Rudd was "qualified" whatever that means, but still perhaps unsuited by temperament. It's notable that he did worst whenever polls were involved, and nobody challenges the head of the UN in his own sphere. So he might have done OK, I don't know.

But Rudd seeking nomination in the same year as Helen Clarke doesn't make sense to me. His only hope for this position is that her nomination will crash and burn while he keeps himself safely out of the line of fire. If she gets up, he never will because it won't be Oceania's 'turn' again in his lifetime.

To be a sensible strategy, he'd need to assume he was seen as a better candidate by Australia for Australia's selfish benefits and that they would simply outbid New Zealand. Chairing the UN Security Committee might be one such benefit, but then they'd have to trust Rudd. And here's where the cards come tumbling down. Many hate him. Many have also shown that they will allow personal feelings to get in the way of political calculation. And if he couldn't see that, then he probably is unsuited to the position.

If I remember to look in 30 years' time, the Cabinet papers will make great reading.

Jim Belshaw said...

I fear, 2t, that we need to bring that release date forward so that we can both be present. Then we will see Julie B's view. More in a moment. I have problems with Avenger.

Jim Belshaw said...

Yes, kvd, it was mainly your post @6.57 but also some other comments. However, the response wasn't so much angst as a continuing attempt to work things out. If you look at the material i cited and links, it is clear That Mr Turnbull having previously indicated some form of of support for Mr Rudd told him that he was not going to get through, that he (Turnbull) had formed a different view. Mr Rudd chose to proceed. That reduces sympathy.

There is a novel in this. I have the strong impression that Mr Rudd was given support when nobody thought that he might win, that he would be knocked out early. But then after two years persistent hard work including lobbying the permanent members, suddenly Mr Rudd looked far more credible. Still, an outside choice, but credible.

I did focus on process because it is decisions along that process that created the mess. And it is a mess, one that has damaged Mr Turnbull and distracted the Government. I don't think that I am being unfair when I say that.

Accepting that we are probably in agreement on process issues, my personal reaction was influenced by what I saw as inequity and unfairness.

2 tanners said...

Jim, you have a couple of years on me, but not many. I fully intend to be around for that release even though the event (or non-event) will be a long-forgotten and not very interesting chapter of history by then.

Jim Belshaw said...

Oh I don't know, 2t About the interest, that is. I suspect that it will all be quite interesting still.

Anonymous said...

- without comment.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd. It's interesting.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I wasn't very balanced. I don't like Rudd, and I never did. Some people told me how they got the rough edge of his tongue BEFORE these traits of his personality were made public by the media, and I made my mind up then, when they told me how he'd treated them.

Still, he got a raw deal. If they weren't going to support him - tell him straight up, and tell him why - "Because we don't think you'll behave in a statesman-like manner" (or whatever the reason was)...