Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 08:10 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 08:10 | SYDNEY

The Bomber and the Doctor


Graeme Dobell

17 September 2009 17:00

Give Kevin Rudd credit for being both a policy wonk and a master political spinner.

Appointing two former Opposition Leaders to two diplomatic posts in one day? Priceless. Appointing two leading politicians to two diplomatic posts in one day but structuring it so as to avoid any real flak about jobs-for-the boys? Masterful!

The politics works but it looks like pretty good policy as well. Sending Kim Beazley to Washington means that apart from Prime Minister, he can now tick off all of his dream jobs (Defence Minister, Labor leader and ambassador to the US). Along with all his diplomatic duties, here's hoping that Ambassador Beazley finds time to do some writing while in Washington. A tell-all diary is always useful. But the book we really need from Ambassador Kim is the one he has long proclaimed wanting to write — the definitive history of the Australian alliance with the US.

Bill Hayden used his spare time as Governor-General to turn out one of the best Australian political autobiographies (think Latham without the vitriol but with more insight). Ambassador Kim will have the resources — if not the thinking time — to start to rough-out that US history. The existing healthy store of US contacts can be enlarged, the quality of the anecdotes can be refreshed — all part of the power currency of Washington.

A Beazley speech on defence or strategic issues is always interesting and often original, because the written word is his metier. By contrast, the Beazley willingness to range widely across an idea can be a problem in the electronic age. Modern media rewards sound grabs, not complex arguments. That's why Beazley was damned by the press gallery as garrulous.

The deep Beazley affection for the US, his long political experience and broad intellect make him a natural to drink for Australia in Washington. I’ve argued in this column that one way of dividing Australian leaders is between those hot for the US alliance and those who are merely warm, or even lukewarm. The division crosses party lines. Leaders on the cooler side include Fraser, Gorton, Whitlam, Hayden and Latham. In my list of the hot group, Beazley is in the forefront alongside Hawke, Howard, Menzies and Rudd.

The politics of Rudd's appointment of Beazley works within Labor too. The Kevin is doing what Howard did when he appointed Andrew Peacock as ambassador to Washington — laying to rest old enmities. That is an important signal for those in Labor or the Canberra bureaucracy who still harboured fears that having been close to Kim in the past might be more dangerous for their careers than having been close to Howard.

Appointing Brendan Nelson to Brussels, as with the previous appointment of Tim Fischer to Rome, ticks both the merit and politics boxes. The Eurocrats will eventually get used to the Doctor's bedside manner. If the Australian Defence Department can come to terms with Brendan's way of viewing the world, then Brussels should be able to cope. Making Nelson ambassador to the World Health Organisation as well as NATO is as close to finding a proper fit for the breadth of Brendan's unusual talents as it is possible to imagine.

Photo by Flickr user young_einstein, used under a Creative Commons license.